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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.