This isn't the first time we've reported about Google's deplorable policies for removing apps from the Play Store. One day you're the developer of an extremely popular app, distributing it to thousands of users, the next it's poof gone with no warning, no explanation, and no way to easily communicate with the team to understand what has gone wrong.
The latest victim is the famous and ridiculously powerful Tasker app. Tasker has been available on Android since time immemorial and has made many a user extremely happy with its extensive featureset. Want to turn on the popcorn machine when you yell "movie time!" at your phone? There's probably a way to do it with Tasker. How about greeting you with "Good morning gorgeous" each morning when you turn on the bedroom lights? There's gotta be a Tasker profile for that. But the app isn't just useful for gimmicks and even if many of us feel overwhelmed by it or don't need it, it's still part of the foundation of Android and the poster child for all the possibilities you have with the platform.
Taking Tasker out without a notice isn't just reckless, it's being stupidly blind to the entire history of Android, especially when the grounds for removal are dodgy at best. We've contacted Pent, Tasker's developer to see what's going on, and so far the story is as weird as it gets.
Pent didn't get a warning regarding the removal and in the Developer Console, he sees this explanation:
"This app has been removed from Google Play for a violation of the Google Play Developer Programme Policy regarding Dangerous Products. Please review the Optimising for Doze and App Standby article, modify your app's manifest and resubmit. More details have been emailed to the account owner."
It seems that the removal was based on the existence of a dangerous permission that disables Doze in the app's manifest: android.permission.REQUEST_IGNORE_BATTERY_OPTIMIZATIONS. The same reason was given to Stefan Pledl for the removal of his app LocalCast from the Play Store.
However, and here's the weird part, that permission isn't in the Play Store version of Tasker. As a matter of fact, Pent tells us the app wasn't published in any form to the Play Store with that permission. The permission is available in a current beta distributed independently on Tasker's site, but Pent had been warned by a friend about this being ground for Play Store removal so he had already planned to take it out from the next beta.
So how did that permission make its way to Google and cause the app's removal from the Play Store? Pent has two theories: either 1) a beta user submitted a bug report that brought the manifest's permission to Google's attention or 2) Google's on-device app verification (the one within Play Services) has flagged the beta app on a tester's device.
In either case, this should have deserved a prior warning and a little more transparency. A simple communication with the developer would have clarified that the Play Store APK doesn't have that permission in the manifest, which means it's harmless for its users and shouldn't be removed, and that the developer can't force everyone to update their apps, so there might always be users with the guilty version on their devices and the developer can't do anything to change that.
Mistakes like these shouldn't happen, not with popular apps like Tasker that have over 500,000 installs and not with small developers who don't have the same huge cult following and dedicated fanbase. If the Play Store is the business front you use to sell your services and software and your livelihood depends on it, you should at least get warned about any transgressions you're making, given time to fix them, and extended the courtesy to explain yourself before being sentenced to exile.
We'll keep our eye out on Tasker's case and update this post with any further development.
Alternate title: Profile: Scary Permission Detected In Manifest - Task: Action 1: Remove From Play Store, Action 2: Don't Warn Developer
Google PR just got in touch and let us know that Tasker is back on the Play Store. And, indeed, it is. Here's what they had to say:
We can confirm that Tasker is available again on Google Play. We worked very closely with the developer to resolve the situation and ensure that the app was in compliance with our policies.