Why Developers Should Worry About Google Play

Why Developers Should Worry About Google Play

Summary: Google's Android Market becomes Google Play with renewed enforcement of their content policies.


Google's Android Market is now Google Play, and developers with products in the Store may have a new problem on their hands.

The Android Market had long been seen and revered as a free market for content. Now that it's Google Play, it appears to be toughening its approach toward what it deems unacceptable content.

Troublingly, one developer's experience trying to get his app back on the market shows that Play isn't going to be forthcoming about how certain policy violations are to be defined in its new era.

Is Google Play now enforcing decency?

They've always had the policy.

Now that they're Google Play, they're applying it - differently.

The primary developer to get hit with the Google Developer Content Policy stick is Andrew Shu and his "Reddit Is Fun" app.

"Reddit Is Fun" had been live in the Market since 2009 and had over 300,000 active users when Play banned the app for Policy violations five days ago.

At over half a million downloads, it was the Market's most downloaded Reddit app.

"Reddit Is Fun" isn't the only app feeling the sting of Google's vice squad.

Friendly rival Android market MiKandi (site content is NSFW) - catering to a strictly adult app market - told me they have a surge of interest from Play developers scouting for a freer market.

MiKandi's Jennifer McEwan tells me,

Google's decision to enforce their policies surrounding adult material has pushed some developers from their market.

In the past week, we've been contacted by many developers of adult apps who wish for more freedom.

Any developer who has been affected by Google's anti-adult policies is encouraged to contact us at developer@mikandi.com.

What has happened with "Reddit Is Fun" since its ban reveals the difficulties Android app developers now face when they get singled out for Google Play's Content Policy violations.

Unclear restrictions for Google Play devs

"Reddit Is Fun" was ejected for linking to pages on Reddit that in turn link to NSFW content.

The Google Developer Content Policies explicitly state that apps may not link to content Google deems "Pornography, obscenity, nudity, or sexual activity."

The Google Play team's response to Shu said that Google Play reinstatement will require Shu to delete a number of links (links to Reddit topic pages) from the default list included with the app.

Shu explained to me the utterly confusing situation he's now in - he has to try and determine Google's definitions for what the company considers unacceptable in this space:

Google said I need to remove the default links to all subreddits containing sexually explicit material plus any other content violating the Google Play Content Policy ("applies to but not limited to gratuitous violence, hate speech, bullying, and so forth").

One user joked that all subreddits contain hate speech - but this has a ring of truth to it. I mean, what do I do with /r/politics and /r/atheism, two of the highest-ranked subreddits, both filled with a lot of angry and passionate commentary?

What about /r/trees which is a marijuana subreddit? I think I may have to exclude them from the default list to be erring on the safe side.

The tricky part is that although the sexually explicit ("over 18") reddits are not naturally on reddit's front page, there are certainly some reddits, like /r/politics and /r/atheism and /r/trees that do naturally show up on reddit's front page and which may be questionable to Google.

I'll add that what's even trickier here is that we're not dealing with any specific legal restrictions, but a Terms of Service agreement.

Currently Shu is still in appeals, and his app is still off the market.

An extension of Google's identity crisis?

Some have speculated that this moral-flavored policing of app content might be part of Google Play's new direction. In my contact with them, Google Play isn't confirming or denying this speculation.

The name and logo isn't the only thing that changed. On March 11, Google Play (Android Market) saw Eric Chu step down as manager to be replaced by Android's top digital content executive and the face of Google Music, Jamie Rosenberg (who, like Vic Gundotra, is a former Microsoft executive).

It's all interesting to take in, especially at a company so focused on identity awareness yet looks more and more every minute like a company in the middle of a massive identity crisis.

Regardless, I think that Google Play has a responsibility to help developers through this murk - and not just send them all into Kafkaesque appeals, like Google Plus did with people caught in Nymwars crossfire.

Uneven policy enforcement is bad for developers, period.

It remains to be seen why Google Play is going after one type of NSFW content on one small source when a whole lot of NSFW content roams unfettered elsewhere on Play (and indeed it does).

If this is how Play begins to go after "adult content" then I think they have a bigger problem - unless they do a purge and make it forbidden inside the garden walls, a la iTunes.

But you know what's easy to find outside Google Play or Apple's iTunes?

Anything you want.

Topics: Hardware, Android, Apps, Google, Mobile OS, Mobility, Security, Smartphones, Software Development

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  • Screw google

    If google is going to ban reddit on android, then I'm not buying another android phone until they do
  • So

    How is this different from the Apple Store?
    • It's not different at all

      The only thing is that Android fans tout the Android Market as being completely open, and thus better than the Apple Market.
      Michael Alan Goff
    • Developers Unite

      Dear Developers

      Please help us in signing this petition goo.gl/ixfBFl help devs to reach google!
  • This isn't a bad thing...

    The reason Google's integrated all their content offerings is to increase interest in paid apps. And in order for people to be more open to this, they need to be open to explore the app selection, just as they explore the books, music, movies, collections.

    One downside of this is a stricter implementation of family friendly policies. This isn't inconsistent.

    Detailed analysis here: http://www.tech-thoughts.net
  • Why Google Play means good news for developers...


    You certainly make some valid points in the article. The reality is that managing the brand of a store like Google Play and the interests of developers is always going to be a balancing act. That means trying to manage the needs of consumers, developers, record labels, movie studios, regulators and many other competing interests.

    It's no secret Google Play is changing. All things do and must if they are going to evolve and improve. A new brand, new policies, new content, better merchandising, new people. I for one joined the team only a few months ago and was at a rival, independent app store for three years before that (as CMO of GetJar). So when it comes to rival app stores and open ecosystems I've seen that side of the fence too ;)

    But let's also not forget or miss why Google Play is good for developers ;)

    1. The Google brand is one of the most popular, well known and well loved brands by consumers around the world. By tying the store to it's strongest consumer-facing brand, Google is, in effect, committing to the store to in a larger degree than it ever has in the past. And the success of the store depends on its content and much of that content depends on developers.

    2. Google Play improves on something Android Market previously had not done well: it unifies all of Google's entertainment offerings under one singular web offering: play.google.com. This means easier access for consumers to discover, purchase and enjoy music, movies and books. This in turn means new consumers who come in looking for music will also discover apps & games. The same can be said of books, where Google actually has the largest ebookstore with over 4M titles. A rising tied lifts all boats.

    3. Google Play opens the flood gates for doing something else that had been lacking in the past: marketing the actual store. Previously, the store had only really been marketed by carriers and handset vendors. Android Market, though a good brand, was an ecosystem / developer brand. That's not in itself a bad thing but it doesn't mean much to consumers. To truly unlock the power of the web and bring consumers from around the world to the store, Google needed a global brand to market. The results are already bearing fruit. The company has already begun heavily promoting the new store using ads on the web, mobile, through partners, new videos and even, this weekend and last weekend, by a heavy presence at events like SXSW and the Ultra Music Festival. All this is good news for developers as it drives more awareness of not just movies, music and books but also of apps and games.

    All this is good news for developers. Is everything perfect? No. There's still lots of work to be done and undoubtedly this is just the start. Let's face it, there will always be folks who are critical of Google and what it does but it's hard to argue that bringing all this content in one place, improving the consumer experience, marrying content to the Google brand and than getting out there and advertising all this isn't great news for developers.

    I've been speaking to developers for weeks about the change and those I've spoken to are pretty thrilled, want to continue to engage Google and provide the company with even more feedback on how to continue improving the store. If anything, all these massive changes, though difficult and painful, mean Google is listening more to developers then ever not less. And guess what? that's the beauty of an open eco system. Google has to listen. Others don't necessarily have this luxury. Nor do they care to...


    • Additional Stores

      The one great thing with Android is you have the option of additional stores.
      Google Play and Amazon plus OEM's plus others like MiKandi.
  • First people complained...

    ...that Google was not doing enough to regulate the apps allowed on the Android Market. Now people are complaining because Google is finally doing something. It seems to me that some people just will not be happy with Google no matter what they do.
    • This will happen now that Google is the new M$

      I thought all he had to do is remove NSFW content so that it wasnt pre-installed on the default installation. (see daboochmeister's comments below).

      But if that were true, we couldnt have an outraged blogger, and we simply cannot let that happen.

      Google and Android have their problems for sure, but this isnt one of them.
  • Didn't he just have to remove the NSFW content from being there by default?

    I thought i read that it was fine if the NSFW content was made available, it just couldn't be pre-installed by default, it had to be a user's choice to access it. If that's correct, than this seems like a subtly different level of restriction than you're implying, Violet ...

    Not saying I agree or disagree with the enforcement, just an observation.
  • Restrictions

    It is Google's store. They can set up any rules they want on it.
    • Ya but....

      Wouldn't it be smart if Google actually warned the developers first before banning? You're going to tell me Mr. Shu didn't read an Email that could affect his popular app? Probably because he never got a notice. Most places will warn you before there are changes.
  • Google banning smut?

    Funny how they haven't done that in their search engine. [What's good for the gander...]