Given the popularity of our previous coverage for the app, many of our readers are fans of App Cloner, which — as the name suggests — allows you to duplicate an installed app. That's especially useful when a given app only allows one account login at a time. Unfortunately for its many fans, App Cloner was just yanked from the Play Store after allegedly violating Google's policies, and the communication received by the developer from Google during the process stands as another example of the company's ongoing support failure.
According to AppBrain, the app was estimated to have over 5 million downloads, with a 4.06-star rating at the time it was unpublished by Google. Based on statistics provided by the developer, there was an active user base of over 3/4 of a million customers with 2,000 concurrent users at any given time.
We reached out to App Cloner's developer, who gave us his side of the story.
On October 19th, Google contacted him stating the app was violating the Device and Network Abuse policy, and he had until the 26th to voluntarily unpublish it. At the time, the developer assumed this was a result of functionality added via a recent update, which was immediately removed, the app was updated, and a reply based on that remedial action sent back to Google, with a further request for additional information in case the violation was unrelated.
A representative from Google handling the case instructed the developer to publish a new version to trigger a review, and that he would be contacted within the next 24-hours if there was any ongoing violation in the updated app. Two days later, with no contact, the developer reached out to the representative another time, who promised to look into the matter. Again, the assurance of later response was ignored, and shortly afterward, the app was delisted.
In a last-ditch effort to fix the situation, which was amplified by Google's communication mistakes, the developer attempted an appeal, which was ultimately rejected on the 31st. The near-boilerplate response returned with the rejection still fails to include sufficient detail for the developer to fix the app's alleged violation of Google's terms:
You will not engage in any activity with Google Play, including making Your Products available via Google Play, that interferes with, disrupts, damages, or accesses in an unauthorized manner the devices, servers, networks, or other properties or services of any third party including, but not limited to, Google or any Authorized Provider. You may not use user information obtained via Google Play to sell or distribute Products outside of Google Play.
You can read through the Developer Distribution Agreement page for more details and examples of common violations.
In this case, we confirmed that your app is accessing third party apps on users' devices in an unauthorized manner.
This isn't the first time Google's monumentally terrible developer support has resulted in problems — at this point, we could make "Google sticks it to independent developers" a series here at Android Police — but it remains an embarrassment for both Google and the Android community that the problem is still ongoing. At peak, the developer noted tens of thousands of dollars in revenue per month from the app. With Google taking a 30% cut of that, the absolute least it could have done was thrown a warm body at the problem to make sure communication about the violation was handled well.
From what we're told, all the developer needed was a simple explicit statement for precisely how the app was violating policy in order to determine a fix, if one was possible at all. For all the probable tens of thousands (to hundreds of thousands) of dollars Google made off of App Cloner, you'd think it could answer that question.
We previously reached out to Google about this story, but have yet to hear back. In the meantime, the developer and the millions of users who have downloaded the app are left without much recourse.