In an e-mail sent out to Play Store developers earlier, Google announced several updates to its developer program policy. The e-mail mentioned changes in policy including clarification to payment policy regarding subscription billing, the restriction of the "use of names or icons confusingly similar to existing system apps" (a statement that brings back memories of Facebook's "Messenger" gaffe), clarification regarding dangerous products, and practices that violate the Play Store's spam policy, all in addition to a stringent new Ad Policy.
Here's the full text of the e-mail:
Hello Google Play Developer,
We are constantly striving to make Google Play a great community for developers and consumers. This requires us to update our policies when we launch new features, like subscription billing, and also when we see unhealthy behavior, like deceptive app names and spammy notifications. This email is to notify you that we’ve made some changes to our policies which are highlighted below.
- We’ve added clearer details to the payment policy, and guidelines on how we will handle cancellations in our new subscription billing feature
- We are restricting the use of names or icons confusingly similar to existing system apps in order to reduce user confusion.
- We are providing more detail on the kinds of dangerous products that are not allowed on Google Play. For example, apps that disclose personal information without authorization are not allowed.
- We are giving more examples of practices that violate the spam policy.
Additionally, we are adding a new section that addresses ad behavior in apps. First, we make it clear that ads in your app must follow the same rules as the app itself. Also, it is important to us that ads don’t negatively affect the experience by deceiving consumers or using disruptive behavior such as obstructing access to apps and interfering with other ads.
Please take a look at the Google Play Developer Program Policy at http://play.google.com/about/developer-content-policy.html to see all the changes and make sure your app complies with our updated policies.
Any new apps or app updates published after this notification will be immediately subject to the latest version of the Program Policy. If you find any existing apps in your catalog that don’t comply, we ask you to fix and republish the application within 30 calendar days of receiving this email. After this period, existing applications discovered to be in violation may be subject to warning or removal from Google Play.
Google Play Team
Perhaps most notably, the policy changes include very specific restrictions on misleading or intrusive ads, including (but not limited to) those that "simulate or impersonate system notifications or warnings," or "make changes to the functioning of the user’s device outside the ad." Though Jelly Bean has a notification-disabling feature baked in, an official policy change should keep your notification tray free of intrusive "spamvertising."
Click here for a text comparison between the old and new policies
From the wording of the new policy, it would seem that Airpush-style advertising may be banned, at least in cases when such ads don't identify the app that pushed them. Services that change functions of your device outside the actual app (like Sellaring) may also be banned, though the policy indicates that changes like adding bookmarks, shortcuts, or alterations to default settings can be made, but require "the user’s knowledge and consent."
Of course, the new policy doesn't define those terms, nor does it explain just what it takes to attain user knowledge and consent – it could be anything from reading a Play Store description to an actual in-app dialogue. Thankfully, the policy also points out that "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."
As you can see from the above e-mail, Google is taking the Play Store policy very seriously, warning that offending apps have 30 days to shape up or face the risk of removal from the store.
Overall, the revised policy represents a much-needed change in Google's stance on app advertising, one which will undoubtedly improve users' experience as well as the accountability developers have for their products.