Google tweaks Android developer Play rules to tackle spyware pushers, shady marketing

Google's new rules should make for a better experience on Google Play, but will it clean up some developers' dodgy marketing?
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google has updated its app rules for Google Play in a move to tackle spyware and the shady marketing tactics sometimes employed by 'greyware' vendors.

Depending on how strictly Google enforces six new rules in its Google Play Developer Policies, Android owners could see fewer peskier apps turning up on the store, and get a clearer idea of the behaviours and features they can expect from any apps installed from Google's marketplace.

Yesterday, developers were given 15 days to bring their apps in line with the new rules or face action from Google. Those not toeing the line don't will get a warning notifcation, or even see their app booted from Google Play altogether. 

Google periodically sweeps large numbers of unwanted apps from Google Play and occasionally banishes ones that violate its terms of service, such as the two digital currency mining apps that were posing as content apps that got pulled from the store last week.

The updated developer policies now include a new category of conditions for publishing to Google Play, called App Promotion. The category contains new rules aimed at apps that use tactics often used to build ad affiliate networks; specifically, Google says apps are now not allowed to use "deceptive ads on websites, apps or other properties, including simulated system, service, or app notifications or alerts".

Apps also shouldn't use "install tactics" such as redirecting a device to install an app or Google Play without informed used action. Unsolicited promotion via SMS is also banned.

Another update to tackle shady marketing includes a new reference to modifying browsers in the developer policy's 'System Interference' clause.

"Apps and their ads must not modify or add browser settings or bookmarks, add homescreen shortcuts, or icons on the user’s device as a service to third parties or for advertising purposes," the policy states.

Google also updated its spyware policy and again emphasised in its Ads Policy section that ads should not impersonate system elements of a device.

"Ads must not simulate or impersonate the user interface of any app, or notification and warning elements of an operating system. It must be clear to the user which app each ad is associated with or implemented in," it states under Ads Context.

One new rule that should help consumers when deciding to install freemium apps is a new requirement that developers "clearly disclose when an advertised feature in your app’s description requires in-app payment".

"If your product description on Google Play refers to in-app features to which a specific or additional charge applies, your description must clearly notify users that payment is required to access those features," the policy now states.

And while Google already had policy on sexually explicit content that prohibits apps promoting or containing pornography but, according to an email to developers, it's been adjusted to provide a better experience for minors.

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