Google has updated its Play Store developer policy with some tweaked language and a few new sections. As usual, Google is making changes to address worrying trends it is seeing in apps. Developers whose apps are not in line with the new policy risk getting booted from the store. Perhaps the most interesting alteration is a new section outlining unacceptable app promotion techniques.

Let's go through the changes point by point.

App Promotion (all new)
Apps published on Google Play may not directly or indirectly engage in or benefit from the following behavior:

  • Promotion via deceptive ads on websites, apps or other properties, including simulated system, service, or app notifications or alerts.
  • Promotion or install tactics which cause redirection to Google Play or the download of the app without informed user action.
  • Unsolicited promotion via SMS services.

It is your responsibility to ensure that no ad network or affiliate uses such methods to direct users to pages that make your app available for download.

It is no longer acceptable for apps to fool you into downloading an APK or going to a Play Store page. That old trick where an ad mimics a system dialog is specifically cited as not okay. This applies everywhere, not just in apps. Apps also can't use your SMS capability for promotion/sharing without getting explicit consent. These are the big changes, but there's more to see.

Sexually Explicit Material section
New: Apps that contain or promote pornography are prohibited; this includes sexually explicit or erotic content, icons, titles, or descriptions.
Old: We don't allow content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material.

A little more detail added here. Google is making clear it's not just the content of the app that counts, but the icon, description, and so on. There was probably not much confusion about this, but you never know.

Dangerous products section
New: Don't transmit or link to viruses, worms...
Old: Don't transmit viruses, worms...

Again, probably was pretty self-explanatory before, but stronger language always helps reduce misunderstandings. You know, like if you thought linking the user to your malware instead of downloading it directly was okay somehow. Okay, then.

System interference section
New: Apps and their ads must not modify or add browser settings or bookmarks, add homescreen shortcuts...
Old: Apps and their ads must not add homescreen shortcuts, browser bookmarks...

Those apps that sneakily add links to content partners to your bookmarks or home screen were already banned, but now Google has included the requirement that apps not modify existing data either.

Paid and Free Apps section

New: If your product description on Google Play refers to in-app features to which a specific or additional charge applies, your description must clearly notify users that payment is required to access those features.

This is another interesting one that likely has something to do with the increasing use of in-app purchases. Google is now mandating that if your app description includes features that are behind an IAP paywall, the text must disclose that up front. A better way might be for Google to list IAP content in the Play Store like Apple does, but it's better than nothing.

Ads context section

New: It must be clear to the user which app each ad is associated with or implemented in.

This was added as an addendum to language that points out you can't impersonate system elements or alerts. So this is just strengthening that prohibition. No pretending that ad doesn't come from your app.

Google has also clarified when this is taking effect, so developers take note.

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 unpublish the app, or fix and republish the app within 15 calendar days of receiving this email. After this period, existing apps discovered to be in violation may be subject to warning or removal from Google Play