Google Updates The Play Store Content Policy With A Lot Of Changes Like Killing Notification Ads And More

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Every once in a while, Google updates the Play Store Development Content Policy which is where the rules are for putting apps in the Play Store. It defines what can and can’t be done by developers and it’s the guide Google has for shutting down apps and developers when they do something wrong. Usually when Google updates it, it’s because they’re looking for ways to fight spammers and forgers, we’re all tired of seeing fake apps pop up under popular names.

As is with every major Google update, the folks at Android Police did a teardown and found a whole bunch of interesting stuff that Google changed or added to the Policy in order to make it better and tighter to keep the Play Store as clean as possible.

Let’s start with probably the most important change of all:

Notification ads are no longer allowed, in any  way or shape.

Apps and their ads must not display advertisements through system level notifications on the user’s device, unless the notifications derive from an integral feature provided by the installed app. (e.g., an airline app that notifies users of special deals, or a game that notifies users of in-game promotions).

Apparently Google was as much upset about this kind of ads as we were so they decided to completely forbid them. Apps can’t show anything in the notification area that is not an integral part of the app. Before, apps could display ads if they specified they where ads (Like AirPush did until now), but now every kind of advertisement is off-limits.

Thank you Google for that.

Developer name and website are now included in the content policy.

Our content policies apply to any content your application displays or links to, including any ads it shows to users and any user-generated content it hosts or links to. Further, they apply to any content from your developer account which is publicly displayed in Google Play, including your developer name and the landing page of your listed developer website.

Until now, only icons, content, ads and user-generated content was included in the policy, meaning shady developers could impersonate other apps through the name of the developer or the page listed as the developer’s website. This is much better for keeping ill-conceived developers at bay, but as Android Police said, it also gives the big companies more room to complain about developers if they think they’re similar to them, even if they are legit and just picked a named that sounded similar. Just try not to name your company Bovio, Singa or anything like that.

The hate speech policy has been reworded to make it less ambiguous

Keeping hate speech out of the Play Store is obviously a great thing but the word “hate” is very ambiguous because it depends on what people consider it to be. Now Google has changed the wording on that sentence from “we don’t allow the promotion of hatred based on their…”  to “we don’t allow the content advocating against groups of people based on their…”. The new line is much less ambiguous than the original one. It doesn’t matter what you think, if you speak against someone else, you’re out.

Impersonating an app or a service is getting smacked

Products must not contain false or misleading information in any content, title, icon, description, or screenshots.

That line was added to the impersonation or deceptive behavior section. As you can see, Google has included pretty much every part of an app description in there, meaning there’s no way developers can mislead users and get away with it. For example, apps won’t be able to use screenshots for a popular game or app and then just include a small “this is a guide” type of sentence in the description.

Non-public contact lists cannot be published or disclosed

I honestly don’t know why this wasn’t here before. The personal and confidential information sections now includes “non-public contact lists” meaning that if you don’t make it public, they can’t either. This should have been here from day one, but at least now it’s there.

Drugs are now specified as illegal

Google already had a “don’t do illegal things on your app” section, but now they added an example: “such as the sale of prescriptions drugs without a prescription”. Why the specification? I don’t know, maybe they saw a trend of new apps doing this and they wanted to remove all of them at once.

No more gambling or “play for prizes” in any app

“Games of skill that offer prizes of cash or other value” are now considered gambling and that was already forbidden so apps won’t be able to offer users real-world prizes or gambling disguised as in-app purchases. As AP noted, “other value” is very ambiguous so I guess Google left themselves some wiggle room here.

A new System Interference section has been added to prevent apps to mess with your device

This new section has some policies taken from other sections but they’re all consolidated under the same title along a few new ones.

  • An app downloaded from Google Play (or its components or derivative elements) must not make changes to the user’s device outside of the app without the user’s knowledge and consent.
  • This includes behavior such as replacing or reordering the default presentation of apps, widgets, or the settings on the device. If an app makes such changes with the user’s knowledge and consent, it must be clear to the user which app has made the change and the user must be able to reverse the change easily, or by uninstalling the app altogether.
  • Apps and their ads must not add homescreen shortcuts, browser bookmarks, or icons on the user’s device as a service to third parties or for advertising purposes.
  • Apps and their ads must not display advertisements through system level notifications on the user’s device, unless the notifications derive from an integral feature provided by the installed app. (e.g., an airline app that notifies users of special deals, or a game that notifies users of in-game promotions).
  • Apps must not encourage, incentivize, or mislead users into removing or disabling third-party apps except as part of a security service provided by the app.

Besides the notification ads we talked about before, apps can’t touch your settings, add homescreen shortcuts, browser bookmarks or icons to your app drawer without your specific permission. This is basically a “leave my phone alone” kind of policy.

There are a few more changes like tweaks to the spam policy, keyword abuse, some clarifications to the in-app purchases section and full screen ads must have an easy way to close them without opening the ad (no more small X hidden in a corner). For more detail on these sections go to the Android Police teardown, they did a great job with it.

Overall it’s a great update that will help keep the Play Store clean and users happy with their experience with it. Nobody likes fake apps or annoying ads so we all win with this new changes.