Share this Story

Google Play Developer Program Policy Receives Update – See Ya Shady Ads, Spam and Deceptive Apps

Last night, the Google Play notified us that the Developer Program Policy received a sizable overhaul, outlining a future for Android and apps that looks much more polished and a lot less “spammy.” The email provided four bullet points for topics that garnered the most attention, and are as follows:

  • We’ve added clearer details to the payment policy, and guidelines on how we will handle cancellations in our new subscription billing feature
  • We are restricting the use of names or icons confusingly similar to existing system apps in order to reduce user confusion
  • We are providing more detail on the kinds of dangerous products that are not allowed on Google Play. For example, apps that disclose personal information without authorization are not allowed.
  • We are giving more examples of practices that violate the spam policy.

If we dive into the policy a bit deeper to see some of these changes, I have a feeling that you will enjoy what they have to say. Let’s start first with their stance on spam, spam apps, and anything that takes away from the “great user experience” in Google Play. 

Spam and Placement in the Store

Developers are important partners in maintaining a great user experience on Google Play.

  • Do not post repetitive content.
  • Product descriptions should not be misleading or loaded with keywords in an attempt to manipulate ranking or relevancy in the Store’s search results.
  • Developers also should not attempt to change the placement of any Product in the Store by rating an application multiple times, or by offering incentives to users to rate an application with higher or lower ratings.
  • Apps that are created by an automated tool or wizard service must not be submitted to Google Play by the operator of that service on behalf of other persons.
  • Do not post an app where the primary functionality is to:
    • Drive affiliate traffic to a website or
    • Provide a webview of a website not owned or administered by you (unless you have permission from the website owner/administrator to do so)
  • Do not send SMS, email, or other messages on behalf of the user without providing the user with the ability to confirm content and intended recipient.

No more repetitive content, misleading product descriptions, or affiliate garbage? Yessir. They also mention that apps are not allowed to send texts or emails on a user’s behalf, and that apps which are created by an automated tool, can no longer be submitted by that same tool. That means it will become much more difficult for massive spam app uploads to happen, as owners of the app will have to upload them by hand.

Next up, is probably the section you care most about:  advertising.

Ad Policy

The policy below covers all ads that are implemented in and bundled with apps. These rules are important in maintaining a positive experience for everyone using Android apps from Google Play. Be sure to check back from time to time, as these policies may change.

  1. Developer Terms apply to the entire user experience of your application/extension
    Please be aware that Google’s Developer Distribution Agreement and Developer Program Policies(together, “Developer Terms”) apply to each application (“app”) as well as any ads or third-party libraries bundled or made available through the app. Offer your users a consistent, policy compliant, and well communicated user experience.In general, ads are considered part of your app for purposes of content review and compliance with the Developer Terms. Therefore all of the policies, including those concerning illegal activities, violence, sexually explicit content, and privacy violations, apply. Please take care to use advertising which does not violate these policies.Ads which are inconsistent with the app’s content rating also violate our Developer Terms.
  2. Ads Context
    It must be clear to the user which app each ad is associated with or implemented in. Ads must not make changes to the functioning of the user’s device outside the ad by doing things such as installing shortcuts, bookmarks or icons or changing default settings without the user’s knowledge and consent. If an ad makes such changes it must be clear to the user which app has made the change and the user must be able to reverse the change easily, by either adjusting the settings on the device, advertising preferences in the app, or uninstalling the app altogether.

    Ads must not simulate or impersonate system notifications or warnings.

  3. Ad Walls
    Forcing the user to click on ads or submit personal information for advertising purposes in order to fully use an app provides a poor user experience and is prohibited. Users must be able to dismiss the ad without penalty.

  4. Interfering with Third-party Ads and Websites
    Ads associated with your app must not interfere with any ads on a third-party application.

The highlights here happen mostly in section 2. At the bottom, you can see that ads cannot “simulate or impersonate system notifications” any longer. It’s unclear if notification-style ads will be banned completely or if that just means they have to be colorful and clearly marked as ads (probably the latter). Still, trickery is no longer allowed.

We also like the new stance on not allowing apps to simply install shortcuts, bookmarks, icons, or the changing of default settings without letting a user know. How many times have you installed an app and found some new shortcut for an app that you had never purchased before, sitting on your home screen?

Overall, these changes seem to make the Google Play store come off as much more professional and a little less wild than it had been in the past. It’s almost hard to image a life without spam, isn’t it? It’s almost upon us.

Feel free to read the full program policy here.

  • developer

    Airpush has confirmed they will be releasing their new SDK 5.0 within the next two weeks. They will be in full compliance with Google plays new policy. Phew!
    I believe removing all notifications that mimic system notifications is a step in the right direction. I can see why users get annoyed at these types of ads but at the same time as developers ads are essential for us to make profit so we can continue make FREE apps.
    Airpush has an opt out option for users who do not want to get ads anymore. I am happy with Airpush thus far and really appreciate the opt out option for my users.

  • master94

    Nice move Google. Finally no more random apps being installed without permission.

  • EricTheRed

    Thank you Google!!! I sure hope this prevents apps from putting shady icons on my phone. I hate HATE it when app I download do this. I use to be able to force stop all my apps until the icon went away to pinpoint who is spamming me. Now, devs have wised up to that little trick and it is much harder to track down. But, if I ever do find out which apps do this I disown you in a heartbeat…and I don’t care how cool of an app you are. You could be an app that turns my phone into solid gold and I still wouldn’t use it! 🙂

  • “”The highlights here happen mostly in section 2. At the bottom, you can
    see that ads cannot “simulate or impersonate system notifications” any
    longer. It’s unclear if notification-style ads will be banned completely
    or if that just means they have to be colorful and clearly marked as
    ads (probably the latter). Still, trickery is no longer allowed.””

    Um, plain and simple written English ” must not simulate or impersonate system notifications or warnings.” Key words must and not , simulate, system notifications. Based on this wordong, any uncolicted sytem notificatin pushed to you by some app asking you to come and spend time with it like a needing girlfriend is violating the terms and you now have a legitimate reason to report the ap for violating said terms.

    This makes me very happy because I get these push notification adds all the time and It has me not even using my phone anymore because my space has been invaded and is no longer mine. I will be reporting every some one of these jerks every time I get some notification add like this from now on. I have uninstalled at least a dozen apps I know or suspect as sources for generating these notifications and I always send an angy email to the developer. The response is always nothing or we will look into it. Well, look into this you losers.

  • Hannah Gornik

    These changes will improve the Android user experience and will benefit the ecosystem.

    It also means developers might have to re-evaluate their monetization strategies, as effectiveness of some current approaches could decline as they adapt to become compliant. I think we’ll see more paid and in-app purchase models, as well as some new ideas – such as AppKey, a new monetization option that is compliant with these changes, currently in beta and looking for developer partners to help test it out… Hannah / AppKey

    • Does anyone see a notification that they check because they think they just got a priority email etc, realize it is a game app advertisement and say to themselves, “hey, I am goig to drop what I am doing and go give this jerk some money for hijacking my notification bar and making my phne vibrate in my pocket”? I think not.

      • Those types of ads make money when you view or click them, or when they advertise and app and the user installs it.

  • al

    Is this why you removed those annoying ads at the bottom of the screen? Please do not bring those back.

  • No more random ads in the notifications bar. {{-_-}}

  • What I didn’t see was a good path for reporting violations. I’ve complained multiple times on how “fake alert” ads confuse people. There is no obvious way to report them to be reviewed that I could find.

    • ever app in the play store has built in reporting link at the very bottom past all the description and all that. Last link in the app overview.

  • Jeff

    Hopefully this solves the concern about the “Read Phone State & Identity” combo permission where it gives apps access to your phone number, phone’s IMEI number, SIM card’s IMSI number and the unique device ID that Google assigns to your phone.

    Some user’s are requesting for it to be split here: http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=17675 but it’s currently just being ignored.

    • MAnderson

      I wonder how active Google will be in actually enforcing the new policies. Thus far, Google’s actions has been more reactionary rather than preventative. Are they just going continue letting apps in and only remove violating apps when the internet gets in an uproar about it?

      • Droidzilla

        Google has an app running engine that automatically checks for violations (the code is not released to the public for obvious reasons); I should think this catches plenty of abusers, and then the internet uproar takes care of those exploits that slip through the cracks. I think, all in all, they have a pretty good system considering the insane amount of apps on the Play Store.

      • feztheforeigner

        As a developer, I would not be able to stand a waiting period for my apps to be approved, which is what you are asking for.

        We do not want some App Store replication of waiting a full month to find your application was rejected for something inane or a five minute fix. This would also expand into updates and greatly slow down the speed of progress in basically every application that likes to give support and updates to their apps.

        Google, please don’t ever lose your immediate upload functionality in Android!

        • josue

          I don’t mind you waiting. Maybe it’ll stop a lot of devs from putting out so many beta status updates and test their apps more thoroughly before releasing.

          • plinko

            Seriously, so many apps in Google Play get updates that can’t even be considered beta. That even includes apps from fairly large companies and not just from some guy who makes apps in his spare time.

          • feztheforeigner

            It would also mean less developers, less apps and slower updates.

            You would be stuck with a buggy app for much longer and be left with less features longer. It would also mean only enormous updates could be pushed and any security concerns or breaches would be unable to be fixed for weeks. Titanium Backup, for instance gives near-daily updates.

            How do you like Verizon’s update approval process? Because my GNex seems pretty jealous of those other Jelly Bean GNex’s overseas. My 4G XOOM is also pretty jealous of that WiFi XOOM.

            The same update will be applied to all of these devices, but with the approval process it takes another four months…have fun expanding that from the OS to the apps as well…

          • feztheforeigner

            Oh also, about your beta apps thing, that is actually VERY helpful for devs AND users.

            When doing this, the developer is able to see what functionalities are most important to his users and will be able to focus his update accordingly. Why should he waste his time making some setting no one wants if he can instead spend time making a new feature someone suggested that may entirely change the application for the better?

            For testing out apps, there are about 3,000 Android devices, no way any dev can afford that. If it is stated as alpha/beta you can expect there may be a few problems that will be fixed when he finds them. At least the dev is being vocal about it being unfinished. He could easily say the application is fully functional and fully finished…

            If you don’t like beta apps, don’t download them.

        • jHoggs

          All I know, I have a personal Android phone and a work iPhone. I have the same
          apps from the same developers on both devices. The Android versions do
          get more updates but tend to have more bugs while the iPhone ones get less
          updates but less bugs. That’s MY experience.

  • AlexKCMO

    I wish they’d force an option to turn notifications off. The Magic Piano game that was featured on DL a while ago was pretty cool, but it kept telling me “HEY, COME PLAY JUSTIN BEIBER FOR HALF OFF!!!!” every damn day.

    I ended up uninstalling, which is a shame because when I had time to sit down and play, it was pretty fun.

    • stupid game would also save the songs to root of sd card. are you kidding me?

      • AlexKCMO

        Holy crap I didn’t even realize that.

      • Droidzilla

        So many crappy devs out there. I do hope these policies clean up their acts a bit.

  • grudge

    Wonder when they’ll do something about the ‘top developer’ and ‘bezillions downloaded’ rankings on bloatware.

    • Oh, you mean like those tricksters at verizon with their preloaded and auto loading apps that no one wants and everyone badmouths on the reviews. Like VZ navigator with like 15 million downloads. Cuz 15 million people pay 10 dollars a month for something they are already paying 50 bucks a month for.

  • FortitudineVincimus

    Download the app “Addons Detector” to show who is doing what ads and what type of ads. Super useful app. It is how I discovered Ringdroid uses Push notifications.

  • FortitudineVincimus

    Ringdroid used the shady Push notification tactic to send ads to your notification bar. I had a day where I had 4-5 in as many hours. SOBs removed that crap app once I figured it out

    • Jwhap

      Sad too….this used to be one of my favorites!

      • Droidzilla

        Same here. I installed AirPush Detector to see which app was crapping up my experience, and I died a little inside when it was Ringdroid. I’d had that app on every device since the OG.

    • Right?! Notifications ar for things that matter to me, not your needy freaking game that needs more abstention than a cat.

  • Whew, I’m in the clear. I’m still allowed to place ads near buttons for accidental touches 😉

    • Nick

      I usually uninstall those kinds of apps.

  • Crap Apps

    You mean no more apps like https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=me.jetho.charger how ever will I live…

  • r0lct


    “Interfering with Third-party Ads and Websites
    Ads associated with your app must not interfere with any ads on a third-party application.”

    isn’t the end of adblock.

    Edit: I meant Adfree

    • FortitudineVincimus

      Or AdAway…

      how would it be the end? There are alternative methods for app delivery outside of the market. sh***y ad pushing tactics in ads might stop, ad blocking software won’t

      • r0lct

        The Play Store is what I referring to as the end since they do interfere with ads on third-party applications. I know you can always side-load, but just saying.

        • Ionut Costica

          It says that *ADS* associated with your app can’t interfere with other apps’ adds, not that the whole purpose of your app can’t be to interfere with other apps’ adds. I guess. You should probably check with someone whose native tongue is legalese, though. 🙂

  • Finire

    Can we see an option for custom return windows? Most programs can’t be tried out, or even fully opened in the current 15 minute window. I know that’s prevented me from purchasing quite a few apps that I now just live without.

    • Good point. Hard to download a 500MB game and try it out within the 15 minute time frame 🙁

      • Stephen Zipprich

        Doesn’t the 15 minutes start after the the download from the Play Store is completed? Of course, if you have to download inside the game, that sucks.

        • Finire

          Yes it does, but downloading a large game, I’d like to be able to just leave my tablet, and come back to it to try it out. Not hover over my tablet and have to open it the moment it downloads, and spend the next 10 minutes figuring out if it’s worth keeping.

          Back in the 24 hour days, I could download something, try it out before the night was over, and if I really didn’t like it, I’d return it. Maybe I’m in the minority of people who actually pay for all of there apps, but I like supporting the developers so they can continue to make kick ass apps.

          • I can see why they reduced the trial time, people would beat a game in 24 hours and then return it. But 15 minutes is simply not enough. Maybe they could make it 6 or 12 hours.

          • Finire

            Agreed. Even as much as 3 would be perfect.

          • Laki S.

            I’ve be happy with one or two hours. I just need some time to actually play around with it, try different configurations, etc., and one hour is a good amount of time to get a worthy preview. I’ve downloaded some games recently that took forever and by the time I was able to open the game, my window had closed and I was left with some $3.99 stinkers. Now I’m hesitant on buying anything at all because those little charges end up adding up to a lot at the end of the month.

          • Bottom line, you do not want to pay money for a crap product. you don’t want to sit there counting the seconds and jump on it the second it is done downloading to beat the clock either. The 15 minute period is probably more of a negative user experience issue than the notification bar adds. But that is a close call.

        • Most large games in the store are small installers and then download the rest of the game within the app. Not 100% sure but i think it starts the 150 mins after the initial download.

        • SolipsisticPsychologist

          No, the 15 minutes starts once you purchase the app, not once it finishes downloading. So if an app takes longer than 15 minutes to download, well too bad, you’re screwed and stuck with it whether you like it or it is compatible with your device or not. It’s a screwed up system changing to such a ridiculously short refund window, and it only favors the developer. Something like 2 hours would be so much more adequate, but honestly i think it’s complete bullsh!t that 24 hours was taken away, and I think that that should be reinstated. Hey, why not just get rid of it all together, then we can be just like the stupid as crap Apple App Store, where developers can release garbage on purpose, knowing that once they lie and sucker people in, there is no way they can lose money because there are no refunds! Whoever thought 15 minutes was a good refund time frame, probably also thinks reality television is quality TV.

          • SolipsisticPsychologist

            Yeah I might have been confusing but what i meant was that it does not cover extended downloads where you have to download additional stuff, where most people do right away. But there are also very large initial downloads that can take longer than 15 minutes, especially taking into account one’s connection strength. 15 minutes is a complete joke and wholly insufficient.

          • They changed that policy and the time begins after the app download is complete. This was months ago. Should have kept it at 12 hours. I have held off on apps I might like but not sure of just because 15 minutes is not sufficient.

  • well it took them long enough, amazing it was allowed in the first place