Play Store rules and policies have always been fluid and quick to change. Lately, Google has emphasized user security over usability. One instance is the crackdown on purported misuse of SMS and call permissions, making some developers rethink or remove basic functionality in their apps. A Reddit thread surfaced that suggested old, unpublished applications would also need to be updated, with emails and help documents seemingly implying that not addressing the issue could result in the suspension of developers' accounts. Thankfully this isn't the case, according to an Android Developer Relations spokesperson who joined the conversation.
In the Reddit post, a developer sought help after Google wanted them to update a years-old, unpublished app. An email they received stated that "all apps on Google Play published or unpublished status, must be compliant with Google Play policy." The Redditor was not interested in continuing development for this particular app and they feared that their account could be banned for violating the policy, particularly since there is no way to completely delete an app from the Play Store. Developers can only unpublish them, leaving them accessible for users who've downloaded the app before. You can only ask the Play Store team to remove an app altogether when it isn't installed on a single device anymore, which is highly unlikely for popular apps.
Luckily, Jacob from Android Developer Relations jumped into the conversation to clarify that what the Redditor saw was just a warning for an impending app removal. These "are not the same as suspensions and will not count as a strike against your account." Jacob recommends simply leaving the app as it is and let the Play Store team remove it if they see fit to.
Unfortunately, the language around app removal and suspension remains unclear on Google's Play Console Help pages. In one paragraph, it says that removals "don't impact the standing of your Google Play Developer account" before contradicting this straight after: "Egregious or multiple policy violations can result in suspension, as can repeated app rejections or removals." Jacob says that the information is misleading and that he has informed the responsible team.
The developer who started the discussion eventually received an email stating the app had been "removed for policy violation." It didn't specify that this removal wouldn't count against the good standing of the dev's account, leaving them uncertain and concerned.
Hopefully, Google will adjust the language around the removal of unpublished apps. As it stands, it misleads developers into thinking that they need to keep on updating their unpublished apps for all eternity. Alternatively, the company could allow distributors to take down their listings proactively, with no option for users to reinstall them.