To tackle the dodgy apps prevailing in its Play Store, Google introduced a set of policy changes that should limit the apps spreading health misinformation, impersonation, tracking users in the name of parental control services etc.
Google gave the app developers a grace period of 30 days starting July 27th, 2022, to make necessary changes to avoid violating the new policies. While some affect developers, some affect app users in the coming months. Here are they;
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Google Play Store Policy Changes
First up are the changes made to counter health misinformation, where Google named the following things to be considered as violations;
- Misleading claims about vaccines, such as that vaccines can alter one’s DNA.
- Advocacy of harmful, unapproved treatments
- Advocacy of other harmful health practices, such as conversion therapy.
And for impersonation, here are the things considered violations;
- Developers that falsely imply a relationship to another company/developer/entity/organization.
- Apps whose icons and titles are falsely implying a relationship with another company/developer/entity/organization.
- App titles and icons that are so similar to those of existing products or services that users may be misled.
- Apps that falsely claim to be the official app of an established entity. Titles like “Justin Bieber Official” are not allowed without the necessary permissions or rights.
- Apps that violate the Android Brand Guidelines.
Next up is the usage of interstitial ads in apps or websites that degrade the user experience or mislead them into something unnecessary. Limiting them, Google announced the following changes to app developers using such ads;
- Full-screen interstitial ads of all formats (video, GIF, static, etc.) that show unexpectedly, typically when the user has chosen to do something else, are not allowed.
- Ads that appear during gameplay at the beginning of a level or during the beginning of a content segment are not allowed.
- Full-screen video interstitial ads that appear before an app’s loading screen (splash screen) are not allowed.
- Full-screen interstitial ads of all formats that are not closeable after 15 seconds are not allowed. Opt-in full-screen interstitials or full-screen interstitials that do not interrupt users in their actions (for example, after the score screen in a game app) may persist more than 15 seconds.
Further, Google wants the apps that are selling subscriptions to make it easy for users to cancel them whenever they want. And this should be done by setting the cancel option visible in their app’s account settings (or the equivalent page) – and be that linked to;
- A link to Google Play’s Subscription Center (for apps that use Google Play’s billing system); and/or
- Direct access to your cancellation process.
Next up is regarding the tackling of stalkware apps, which come with a safe tag of parental control services – that aim to serve family members or companies to monitor their dependents (or employees) in certain conditions.
While they’re deemed good in some cases, like helping parents track their kids in dangerous places, there are possibilities of abusing this access by the apps. So to limit it, Google mandates the use of a metadata flag called “IsMonitoringTool” to all the stalkware apps and should abide by the following rules;
- Apps must not present themselves as a spying or secret surveillance solution.
- Apps must not hide or cloak tracking behavior or attempt to mislead users about such functionality.
- Apps must present users with a persistent notification when the app is running and a unique icon that clearly identifies the app.
- Apps must disclose monitoring or tracking functionality in the Google Play store description.
- Apps and app listings on Google Play must not provide any means to activate or access functionality that violates these terms, such as linking to a non-compliant APK hosted outside Google Play.
- Apps must comply with any applicable laws. You are solely responsible for determining the legality of your app in its targeted locale.
Besides this, there are also rules for apps using the VPNService, USE_EXACT_ALARM permission, and the forcing of FLAG_SECURE settings by certain apps to safeguard the data transmitted through screenshots. Here’s more you can learn about them.