The Google Play Store is an ongoing dev-disappointment factor, with an undeniable high rate of complaints throughout the recent months. If you have been around the r/androiddev subreddit, you know exactly what the problem is.
“Google Play terminated my account for no reason”
“Google Play support is useless”
“Google Play is removing apps for [insert arbitrary reason]”
Posts like these have exploded in numbers in the past several months. Google made some big changes to their policies and with it, the way they manage the apps and developers on their platform.
Why did Google make these changes? Are developers right to complain about the state the Play Store has become? What does an Android Developer need to do to stay clear of account termination?
Why are Apps and Accounts being terminated?
Google is making its point clear that malicious apps will not be tolerated. The concern around users’ privacy and use of their data has only increased in several years. With it, data laws have been rewritten. Cases have been filed against large companies including Facebook and Google themselves.
As a company, Google has to step up and enforce their policies as strong as they can to ensure both that they stay alive and that their users have no worries and concerns related to their privacy and data.
What are some common trends that developers are seeing as to why Google (or their bots) decided to suspend their apps or terminate their accounts? These include:
For example, if you have an app that’s free, and you publish the same app but a paid version of it with minor differences as two different apps on the Play Store, you’ll get this violation.
“Violating x permissions policy” (Usually Call or SMS permissions)
Google is very strict on its permissions policy and this is especially so with Call and SMS permissions. The general rule is that if your app isn’t primarily a Phone or SMS application, you shouldn’t need this rule.
This discourages apps to include an integration of one of these features as a subset of their app. This is a fair move considering the drastic damage an app could cause if it manages to abuse either of these features.
It does however make it hard for apps like Tasker which aren’t primarily SMS applications but require full use of the permissions. In fact, it took Tasker themselves months of trying and appeals to get themselves approved on the Play Store once again.
“Malicious behaviour” or “Multiple violations of the Developer Program Policies”
These are the annoying ones, because you don’t know what’s going on. Unless you can manage to get ahold of human customer support (which isn’t easy), you may not ever know.
These are only a few of the possible violations you may get and this is nowhere near an exhaustive list.
What to do if your app has been suspended, removed, or account terminated?
If your app has been suspended due to certain reasons, Google will usually give you the chance to amend changes to your app and pass it again for review. Provided you made the changes against your previous violation and that your app does not violate any other policies, your app should pass the review process and get published.
Google deploys are two strike rule. Two strikes and your account will be terminated. If your app has been rejected, it doesn’t count as a strike. A suspension or removal however, does. This isn’t an ironclad rule though. Some developers have gotten away with more than one strike. Other developers have been done in after their first strike.
If your app has been removed, or your account has been terminated, your only option would be to make an appeal. Google will reinstate applications or restore accounts if an error has been made in their decision and hopefully, you can get back what you’ve lost.
However, this doesn’t always work out. Even if an error was made and you’ve done nothing wrong, you might not have the easiest time getting back your app or account.
More often than not, you won’t be able to get ahold of human support and Google’s bots may return to you with this message:
“After reviewing your appeal, we have confirmed our initial decision and will not be able to reinstate your developer account.”
Why not just make a new account?
This unfortunately isn’t an option. Very quickly, your new account will get banned too due to “Association with a terminated account”. This association is made through practically every means of identity Google can associate with your account.
For the CHANCE of a new account to be successful in the Play Store, here’s what you may need to do:
- Get a new PC
- Get a new internet connection
- Get a new mobile number (to link with your new gmail)
- Get a new credit/debit card
- Create a new admob account (if you were using that)
Even then, there’s no guarantee that you’ll make it and thus, I cannot recommend doing this.
What other options might you have if you want to continue developing apps in the Android market?
- Publish your app on another market, or direct potential users to a link to an APK of your app.
- Shout out loud enough on platforms like Reddit in hopes that a Googler will come across your post and give your case a proper review.
The latter has been shown to work by quite a few Redditors but of course, only if your account was terminated in error.
What you can do to avoid getting strikes
I found a post from the Android Pit Forum which provides some general rules you could follow to avoid getting any strikes.
- Do not include user’s reviews in your App description
- Do not include the name of other apps in your description
- Do not ask users to revise their ratings
- Do not post your app’s link in other app reviews.
- Do not offer an incentive to users for ratings and reviews.
- Do not trigger an SMS/email from inside your App
- Do not place ads in notifications
- Do not place bookmarks in the browser or add another app’s icon.
- Ad walls must have a clearly marked close button
- Do not use system based icons.
Can I remove my app from the Play Store
Unfortunately, no. You can unpublish your app from the Play Store which prevents new users from installing your app, but the fact still is you may have existing users using your app. Because of this possibility, you still have to adhere by Google Play’s policies.
Publishing an app is a life-long commitment. In my own experience, you don’t actually need to do much maintenance on your ‘dead’ apps, unless they are of sensitive nature to begin with.
If you are an Android Developer anyway, you should be staying up-to-date with major changes in Google Play’s policies especially those related to user privacy and data. It’s also a good idea to be aware of what problems new versions of Android try to solve.
The last few Android versions all had something to do to improve users’ privacy. Android Q for example now gives users the option to limit when an app can access location.
Am I shouting here to make an appeal myself?
The answer is no. I haven’t had any apps removed or accounts terminated. My status as an Android Developer is still very much alive.
I wanted to address the fire that’s been going on around the community. While this is unfair for many developers who’ve been done in for the wrong reasons, the fact is there’s a multitude of apps and developers who have only malicious intentions on the Play Store. Google has to address these through whatever means they can.
I don’t think the way they’re doing it is perfect though. I think Google can make an effort to provide developers with the information they need to stay clear of any strikes on the platform.
First, it would be great if Google provides a list of general rules to adhere to like the one above. Policy wording can be quite tedious to get through especially if it contains loads of information that would be irrelevant to many apps.
I can’t argue that it’s a developer’s responsibility to be aware of the policies they adhere to, but many new and unaware developers may just skim or skip all of this and get caught off-guard.
Second, it should be more apparent that publishing an app may be a long-running commitment. If something can be done for an app to be removed fully from the Play Store (without getting a strike), that would be much better.
That being said, if you’ve got an app on the Play Store (regardless of whether or not it’s currently published), just be aware of the policies set by Google and make sure your app adheres to it.
Stay up-to-date with changes in how Android handles users’ data and new policies on users’ privacy. After all, staying up to date is one of the many responsibilities of a competent Android Developer.