How Google Play’s Taming Aggressive Apps and Ads

Google PlayAggressive, non-relevant ads, along with a host of other questionable content, will soon be a thing of the past in Google Play.

In an effort to tighten the reigns and eliminate rogue apps, Google has developed a comprehensive set of content requirements that each one must adhere to in order to remain available. The rules were developed to clear out unruly titles and keep users safe from malware, as well as protect Google and carriers’ financial interests. (Earlier this week, Dice blogger Andrei C. posted an overview of content restriction updates coming to Google Play.)

I’m not going to bore you with a paste of the full terms, you can read them on your own (The link’s below). But it’s worth examining the few that I think will have the greatest impact on the overall quality of the Android ecosystem in Google Play.

And corporate IT people, take note: In addition to improving consumer app content, the new restrictions may also help ease BYOD adoption of Android-powered devices by virtually eliminating much of the troublesome junk network admins worry about.

My Stand Outs

Impersonation or Deceptive Behavior: Don’t pretend to be someone else, and don’t represent that your app is authorized by or produced by another company or organization if that is not the case. Products or the ads they contain also must not mimic functionality or warnings from the operating system or other applications. Developers must not divert users or provide links to any other site that mimics or passes itself off as another application or service. Apps must not have names or icons that appear confusingly similar to existing products, or to apps supplied with the device (such as Camera, Gallery or Messaging).

I really like this one, especially the part about mimicking system warnings. Banner ads that do this on regular websites are an annoyance. I’m relieved to see the mobile equivalents on their way out.

Dangerous Products: Don’t transmit viruses, worms, defects, Trojan horses, malware, or any other items that may introduce security vulnerabilities to or harm user devices, applications, or personal data. We don’t allow content that harms, interferes with the operation of, or accesses in an unauthorized manner, networks, servers, or other infrastructure. Apps that collect information (such as the user’s location or behavior) without the user’s knowledge (spyware), malicious scripts and password phishing scams are also prohibited on Google Play, as are applications that cause users to unknowingly download or install applications from sources outside of Google Play.

This suggests a more robust Bouncer. Perhaps an upgraded version will actively chase sneaky apps out of the store. It also leads me to believe stringent protection against these threats will be applied at the store level, before an app is available for download. Hopefully, frequent checks will be running to ensure apps continually meet requirements. If this is the case, mobile malware protection services may soon need another line of business.

Network Usage and Terms

Applications must not create unpredictable network usage that has an adverse impact on a user’s service charges or an Authorized Carrier’s network. Applications also may not knowingly violate an Authorized Carrier’s terms of service for allowed usage or any Google terms of service.

This one puts app developers on the line for creating an inefficient use of network resources, as well as offering apps to circumvent carrier restrictions in order to provide access through things like hotspots and tethering. Developers will be required to read and comply with network carrier terms of service. While unpredictable network usage isn’t clearly defined here, it’s probably safe to assume network traffic spikes are good to avoid in your app.

Do not post repetitive content.

Product descriptions should not be misleading or loaded with keywords in an attempt to manipulate ranking or relevancy in the Store’s search results.

Developers also should not attempt to change the placement of any Product in the Store by rating an application multiple times, or by offering incentives to users to rate an application with higher or lower ratings.

Apps that are created by an automated tool or wizard service must not be submitted to Google Play by the operator of that service on behalf of other persons.

The part about apps created by automated tools and wizards suggests Web-based tools like Conduit Mobile won’t be allowed to submit apps on behalf of their creators. I don’t know if Conduit specifically offers submission services, but many other code-free tools do.

Ad Policies

I’ll stick to the most promising parts:

Developer Terms apply to the entire user experience of your application/extension…

…Ads which are inconsistent with the app’s content rating also violate our Developer Terms.

Finally! Maybe this nifty rule will clean up some of the more suggestive ads that seem to pop up in casual, ad-supported games — which are often played by children. Ad networks will certainly need to change their tune or face a considerable blow to their cash flow.

Ad Context

It must be clear to the user which app each ad is associated with or implemented in. Ads must not make changes to the functioning of the user’s device outside the ad by doing things such as installing shortcuts, bookmarks or icons or changing default settings without the user’s knowledge and consent. If an ad makes such changes it must be clear to the user which app has made the change and the user must be able to reverse the change easily, by either adjusting the settings on the device, advertising preferences in the app, or uninstalling the app altogether. Ads must not simulate or impersonate system notifications or warnings.

Ads are running amok outside of apps, too!? Thankfully, I haven’t encountered one running an adware campaign. Ads performing drive-by installs shouldn’t be allowed in the store.

Ad Walls

Forcing the user to click on ads or submit personal information for advertising purposes in order to fully use an app provides a poor user experience and is prohibited. Users must be able to dismiss the ad without penalty.

Poor user experience is the common theme that drives these content requirements. Aggressive ads that create opportunities for accidental clicks, and apps that require clicks to advance will no longer be tolerated. This one really sets the tone for the future of Google Play.

I suspect this is just the start of a major cleanup of content. Hang your head in shame  if you’re violating the updated restrictions. Clean up your act or get out of the store!

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