16
May
gp

Google changed the policy for app refunds from 24 hours to 15 minutes a few years ago, but Android users eventually adjusted to it. There is still a less prominent way to seek a refund after the 15 minute window if you have a legitimate gripe – it's tucked away in the Play Store order history. However, at some point recently, Google changed the way these refund requests worked.

The blog iTechTriad posted this as a PSA and a potentially serious bug on April 8th, and we've spent the last several weeks digging for details, eventually confirming it as a new Google policy. The gist is that developers are no longer getting refund requests directly, and Google seems to have started granting them almost instantly without revoking access to the apps. Let me explain.

Instant Refunds?

Let's take a look at what happens when you request a refund after that initial 15 minute window. If you go to your Play Store orders page, you can click the three-dot menu button next to any of the items there and report a problem. For apps and games, the only option in the drop down is "I'd like to request a refund." The form you fill out hasn't changed as far as I can tell – it still asks for a reason and says you'll only get your money back if there are extenuating circumstances.

When you hit submit, an email arrives mere moments later telling you the refund was granted (in most cases). That was not the case in the past – developers would get the request emails and have the option of issuing refunds. Now Google is dealing with it on its own.

nexusae0_a4

Indeed, checking the Google Wallet history shows the charge as reversed – we can confirm the money is actually being returned too. Going to the Play Store page for an item refunded in this way shows the content as purchased and ready to be installed. That is – the refund process is not having any effect your access to the content.

Testing

We first became aware of this behavior a few days after the Tiny Thief refund fiasco, and at the time we assumed it was a bug. We set out to see how this new type of refund operates by working with developers Chris Lacy and Koushik Dutta. This allowed us to see what, if anything, was reflected on their end when we processed returns.

a1 a3

a2

From our conversations, we learned that they never received any notification of refunds for the apps we submitted requests for. Everything on their end still looked normal, so Google was somehow processing the returns all on its own without telling developers. Previously, the developer would be forwarded the email asking for a refund, but doesn't seem to be happening anymore.

At this point, we reached out to Google to see what exactly was going on. In the event this was a bug, it would have been a serious problem, especially since we weren't sure where the refunded money was coming from. It took a few weeks and numerous emails to drag all the details out of Google PR, but we've finally sorted out how the new refund process works.

So How Do Refunds Work?

There are actually three types of refunds on Android now. There is the 15 minute window we're all familiar with, of course. The refunds from the order page are actually split into two different versions according to Google – those made less than 48 hours after the sale, and those made more than 48 hours after. In both cases, Google may choose to automate the refund (and in our limited testing, they seemed to be doing so all the time). For refunds requested between 15 minutes and 48 hours, the refund is processed normally, and the developer loses the sale. This also results in the app being removed from the user's library in a similar fashion to the pre-15 minute refund, but it's initiated in a different way.

After 48 hours, Google bears the cost of the refund, which protects developers from retroactive negative earnings. In this case, the apps remain available in the user's library indefinitely. Lest you should think this is a loophole to get free paid apps forever, Google tells us it has mechanisms in place to prevent abuse. The company declined to elaborate on what those mechanisms were, but it likely has something to do with the amount and frequency of refund requests.

Essentially, if it's easier and cheaper to just issue refunds rather than bother developers and deal with the inevitable support issues, Google will just hand out the cash. It's rather like a credit card dispute – is it easier to sometimes just refund the money? Then do it. The Tiny Thief incident is a perfect example of why this approach makes sense. Rovio Stars (the publisher in this case) would have been flooded with refund request emails, taken forever to get through all of them, and inevitably Google would have needed to wade into the whole mess.

The bottom line is this: refunds are much easier to come by for apps in Google Play, but the functionality is a bit harder to access and nothing is outwardly different. Maybe you can feel a little more secure in buying paid apps now that you'll more than likely be able to get an instant refund after that 15-minute window. And most importantly, you can rest assured that after 48 hours, developers' earnings are not harmed.

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • MettaWorldTroll

    I did this months ago on several games that I had bought within weeks prior that stopped working after an update...(Looking at you EA), so it has been around a while now.

  • AbbyZFresh

    I didn't know you could refund apps?

    This will save me a lot of money now.

    • Alvin Brinson

      You've always been able to within the 15 minute window. Long, long ago in the dark ages of Android, you were able to refund for 24 hours.

      Of course, with the relaxed refunds now will come some abuse, but I'm sure if you go and start refunding everything, your account itself might have consequences.

  • Eric Hoch

    Does this mean that all of the refunds that were requested for Tiny Thief were essentially pointless? Google bears the financial burden, and Rovio isn't even notified?

    • Bradley Ruiz

      it seems like it when this way, i got my refund in less than a minute, sad cause rovio still got our money :(

      • Tracy William

        іո­&nbsptհe­&nbsplast­&nbspm○ոtհ­&nbspmy­&nbspgіrlfrіeոd's­&nbspհalf­&nbspbr○tհer ­&nbspg○t­&nbsp$5840­&nbspjսst­&nbspsіttіոg­&nbsptհere­&nbspfr○m­&nbsptհere ­&nbspհ○սse­&nbspaոd­&nbsptհey're­&nbspс○-w○rker's­&nbspsіster-іո-law`s­&nbspոeіgհb○սr­&nbspdіd­&nbsptհіs­&nbspf○r­&nbspseνeո­&nbspm○ոtհs­&nbsp aոd­&nbspearոt­&nbspm○re­&nbsptհaո­&nbsp$5840­&nbspіո­&nbsptհeіr­&nbspsрare ­&nbsptіme­&nbspfr○m­&nbspa­&nbsplaрt○р.­&nbspaррlіe­&nbsptհe­&nbsptірs­&nbsp fr○m­&nbsptհіs­&nbspweb-sіte,...&nbsphttp://Profitbeatsnow&#x32&#48&#x31&#52advanceyay2ehl0B...

        ✒✒✒ �✒✒✒ ✒✒✒ ✒�✒✒ ✒✒✒

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Correct. Well, we don't know for sure because we don't know how the algorithm works, but my guess is yes.

      • Eric Hoch

        1. Release Popular App/Game
        2a. Make lots of sales
        2b. Wait 48 hours
        2c. Go Freemium
        3. Profit!

        • ssj4Gogeta

          Why would you want to go freemium if you were already making lots of sales? If you're saying freemium earns more than paid, then why make the app paid in the first place?

          • someone755

            Because you can double the profits...?

    • ltredbeard

      Well I tried to speak with my money, but I guess that didn't work.

      • Matthew Fry

        And sadly, this *is* capitalism. They are saving money in man hours by automating the process.

    • sirtao

      Most likely, the developers gets asked by Google the final refound sum at some point, depending on the situation

      • peatcoal

        Wut? You mean they get told by Google?

    • Armando Rodriguez

      I did this with Asphalt 8 a few weeks ago.

      First emailed Gameloft and the reply was that they couldnt do anything then a few days later I tried this and voila I got a refund.

      • Mungo

        If they say "can't do anything" it means "don't want to do anything", since the developers always had the ability to give a refund, no matter how much time has passed since the purchase.

    • http://www.ian-morris.com/ Ian Morris

      Presumably if Google is eating the cost for an app like this, where lots of people are demanding refunds, they might take some other sort of action. I'm sure there's a clause in the dev contract that allows them to withhold future payment or something.

  • Danny Holyoake

    What was the Tiny Thief fiasco?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      It's linked right in the post.

      • Danny Holyoake

        I edited my comment literally seconds after I posted it, and I still wasn't faster than you. :)

  • NinoBr0wn

    I never liked the change in the first place, and the only reason I've 'adjusted' to it is because I don't have a choice. Couldn't they have changed the policy just for games? Wasn't that the focus of the complaint in the beginning?

  • WinDroidGuy

    This has worked for AGES, I confirmed it with few apps that stopped working on some devices. Got refunds MONTHS after the fact...

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      It has worked for ages, but the difference was that the requests went to devs, and it was up to them to approve them manually.

      • WinDroidGuy

        Mine were automated, let me find a few emails. :)

  • Mike Reid

    Woah, this is a big change with many ramifications.

    I've always done refunds on request, even years old, but I'm limiting to 30 days now, or longer for a few app upgrades.

    >After 48 hours, Google bears the cost of the refund,

    This means that Google will have to ban devs with "too many" refunds. Otherwise a dev could make a LOT of money with related scams (Encourage associates to buy, then refund.)

    How many is "too many" ? Who knows. I'm sure there will be scam attempts. At the other end, some innocent devs may get hurt.

    >the apps remain available in the user's library indefinitely. Lest you should think this is a loophole to get free paid apps forever, Google tells us it has mechanisms in place to prevent abuse. The company declined to elaborate on what those mechanisms were, but it likely has something to do with the amount and frequency of refund requests.

    OK, this makes sense. I KNOW there are many people who routinely buy every valuable app, then refund immediately. They send me nasty emails when network or other problems prevented a refund in time. So I KNOW that Google has known for years which accounts do this (Google knows all...) So that's great if Google cracks down on this.

    • Alvin Brinson

      I'm sure Google could (would?) investigate such cases. If it turns out that most of the refunding users have legitimate complaints, which could be seen in the reviews, then they might sanction the developer. If, on the other hand, it appears that many of the refunds are basless, they may simply pick and choose certain apps to stop refunding. Or, as you suggest, if the developer is encouraging refunds, sanctio the developer.

      I doubt if this is something that would be done automagically.

      However, if a dev's app is generating an excessively large amount of refunds, then perhaps the dev has some work to do. For example, compatibility issues. If the app is only compatible with certain devices - then the play store entry should be updated as such.

      • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=iWizard Bikram Agarwal

        Do you really think Google will invest manpower to review these refunds? Google will simply build an algorithm and let that automation do its work - banning some users and some devs automatically; even if they are not at fault.

        • Rami

          Google will sure have an automated ban system, I read many posts about google banning end users accounts from buying apps on the store for silly reasons, and those can't create a second account with the same credit card information, because Google will ban the new account. And as everybody knows, there is no way you can contact Google to clarify the issues.

          This can also happen if a dev abuses the AdSense ToS, they ban his entire Google Wallet account, or even worst.

          I have a Google Play Dev account connected with my main official Google account with all my digital life, and I am always terrified of doing something that might jeopardize my digital identify with Google.

    • Satan’s Taint

      This means that Google will have to ban devs with "too many" refunds
      How the hell did you come up with that? It lacks any logic, or sense.

      • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=iWizard Bikram Agarwal

        Google "AdSense leak". Apparently Google is ok with banning people who cost them money.

        • Nicholas Polydor

          Google about Google.

      • EowynCarter

        Google's no charity. Lot of refund asked for an app usually mean there is a problem there, and they should have a closer look.

        In the same way, they're probably watching for people asking lots of refunds.

    • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=iWizard Bikram Agarwal

      Before wallet, when orders were handled by Google Checkout, when you could see the email id and name of the buyer/refunder, I had seen and noted down the email id of several people who were buying and refunding one app after another. I wonder whether Google took any action against them.

  • david coffey

    Wish I knew about this feature when I had my problems with chrono trigger. Square-Enix is such a piece of shit company.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Why not try now?

      • david coffey

        Well...because after 8 months of the game being completely broken if you had 4.3 or kit kat (me), they finally made the game compatible with 4.3 and kit kat a couple months ago. Not sure they'd do it now. I'll give it a go, though. The game is actually still pretty buggy. That fiasco gave me a pretty bad taste in my mouth towards Square-Enix. Shame. Grew up with Chrono Trigger. Favorite game of all time.

        • Ray

          well he just said it will work on anything past 48hrs mine did from a app that i had installed in 2012

      • david coffey

        Well I tried, and here's the email I got. Denied.

  • Kyle Owens

    Are Google's services acting funny today?

  • Alvin Brinson

    Wonder what happens if I go back and try to refund an app I got scammed on 2 years ago?

    • http://www.itechtriad.com Ben Schoon

      In theory that would work

      • Alvin Brinson

        It didn't work. Refund was refused, told to contact developer.

    • Ray

      It doesnt work on in app purchases though i tried on candy crush extra move purchase that my daughter kept clicking

    • Matthew Fry

      Trying that now with the shittiest game on earth EA SimCity Deluxe. I bought it a week after it came out and it never worked and was never updated and they never returned my emails.

  • wollac11

    I suspected this a while back. I requested a refund out of the 15 minute window and the refund came through much too quickly for anyone to have read it and also I noticed that the app was still in my purchased item list even though the money had been returned to me for it.

  • dogulas

    If only this worked for purchased movies ;)

  • CRiTiCaL_FLuX

    Tried to get a refund on an app that doesn't work properly and all I got was a reply saying that I can't get a refund after 15 minutes and should email the developer.

  • Matthew Fry

    What is Google's policy on paid apps that were removed from the store? Based on this revelation, I was going to go get a refund for SimCity Deluxe which never worked but it's gone. It's gone from my app list and from the store.

    • Matthew Fry

      Found it, submitted the refund request. It kind of pisses me off that EA doesn't have to take the hit though. I friggin hate EA sometimes.

      • Matthew Fry

        No insta-refund for me.

        • Alvin Brinson

          Didn't work for me either on another app that was quickly abandoned with major issues after I bought it in the past. So apparently there is a statue of limitations of sort on this. Wouldn't want to make it too easy, don't blame Google for that one.

  • Francois Roy

    Refunds being issued without any notification to the dev is one thing;

    ..But having apps still linked to the account after the refund is the real problem here;

    I totally could just ask for a refund of something pricey like X-COM or Baldur's Gate once in a while and roll on that money to get more apps..

    • Matthew Fry

      You're thinking small potatoes. I'm going for the TomTom/Garmin $50 apps. (well.. I would if I was going to be unethical)

      • Moeen Ahmed

        i believe in app purchases wont give refunds.

  • mantra2

    You can do this on iOS/App Store as well. I've emailed in asking for a credit back for an app that I had bought for iPad that looked awful on the original iPad years ago. I still have access to that app today and I was credited back the money directly from Apple.

    • Satan’s Taint

      Who cares about Apple?

  • blackjaguar25

    Is anybody else getting "an unexpected error has occurred" when they try this? Maybe Google is already doing something about this?

  • Himmat Singh

    This is not true. While the presentation and layout may be new, I have been getting direct refunds from Google in a near automated fashion in the past (like 1.5 to 2 years ago). However, there appears to be a limit for this (I think around 5 or 10 apps), before Google will tell you that you need to contact developers directly to get a refund.

    Edit: But for this, the apps were removed from my accounts and I believe (can't remember 100%) they were automatically uninstalled as well.

  • Milind

    This is really great. I had reduced my purchases after the 24 hour window was dropped to 15 minutes for any App that cost more than a buck. There simply isn't enough time to know whether the app is worthwhile or not in 15 minutes. I can now go back to buying apps that I think are good, but am not sure about. Hopefully this will help consumers, Dev and Google in the long run.

    And in 5 years, I have never had to ask for a refund, all though I did get close to doing that with Co-pilot.

  • theunknown

    https://play.google.com/about/developer-distribution-agreement.html

    3.4 Special Refund Requirements
    Products that cannot be previewed by the buyer (such as applications): You authorize Google to give the buyer a full refund of the Product price if the buyer requests the refund within 48 hours after purchase.

  • Nathan Smith

    So if I have an app that I used once, but it never worked after the original 24 hours (bought it forever ago) thanks to a crappy update, would this be an extenuating circumstance?

  • http://www.techtrendsdiary.com/ Kevin Kimani

    Awesome policy

  • Sofia Caden

    This is great. 15 minutes was way to short. Does anyone know what the article and its comments are talking about when they mention a Tiny Thief/Rovio incident? http://bit.ly/S1TyZN

  • Alstonalston

    The company’s fleet comprised 717 aircraft of various sizes at the end of 2012.Read More http://bit.ly/S28KWM

  • Vishnu Sharma

    I have purchased today call recorder and simply uninstalled within 15 minutes and received cancellation/ refund message form google , while I don't made any refund request.

    • didibus

      If you uninstall under 15 minutes, it assumes you want a refund.

  • Matthew Fry

    As way of update, my request for a refund of SimCity Deluxe, despite specifying that the app has never worked and their customer support never responded to my requests, was denied after 4 days. So... not so automated.

  • Bill Douglas

    I'm guessing that this doesn't work for in-app purchases for, say, gems on Clash of Clans?

  • Julio Galvan

    Google refunded me all my money and I kept all the apps that I had purchased. And I bought more apps with that money.

  • firehawk

    wait can someone help me i did get a refund within 15 mins and the money isnt back in my account :| reason why i say this
    one game on five nights at freddy's = 10 mins per night
    i died at 4am so yeah there was still time
    so where is the money :|

Quantcast