Google Updates Play Store Policies to Protect Android Users

Google has updated its developer Play Store policies with an aim toward tamping down intrusive ads and other unpleasant consumer experiences, such as VPN abuse and brand impersonation on Android. Full-screen interstitial ads of all formats (video, GIF, static, etc.) that display unexpectedly — that often lead to users engaging with something else — are forbidden effective September 22. Likewise, apps that allow ads at the beginning of a game level or during the beginning of a game content segment are on the robust list of infractions the Play Store will no longer tolerate.

“In-game ads can be annoying,” TechCrunch writes, explaining the new policy will also prohibit “any full-screen ads that are not closable after 15 seconds,” although “opt-in ads, like an ad to watch a game rewards, can exceed these time limits.” Developers are “required to comply” with the new ads guidelines “to ensure high quality experiences for users when they are using Google Play apps,” the company wrote in a developer announcement posted last week.

While The Verge says the ad changes “will impact your everyday phone usage the most,” it notes Google is trying to curb “overall bad behavior in the Play Store” in what it calls “wide-ranging policy changes” that address “loopholes developers may have used to skirt existing rules.”

Impersonator apps designed to imply an association with a company or government agency with which it has no involvement are outlawed as of August 31. “Similarly, developers can’t use icons to show they’re officially affiliated with a company, artist or TV show when they’re not authorized to do so,” TechCrunch writes.

Purveyors of health misinformation are also banished. Advocating specious advice, promoting unproven treatments and boosting “injurious practices like conversion therapy” and falsehoods about vaccines are also seeing the Play Store roll up its welcome mat.

The Alphabet subsidiary “is prohibiting apps from using Android’s VPN services for tracking user data or rerouting user traffic to earn money through ads,” although “core VPN apps won’t be affected,” says TechCrunch.

Apps that track user locations — so-called stalkerware — will only be allowed to track employees and children. “Google explicitly says using these apps for tracking someone else, like a spouse, is banned, even if the user claims the person being tracked is aware of it,” according to The Verge.

Google’s responsible storefront policies are no doubt in part a response to pro-consumer regulatory crackdowns around the globe, and are particularly strict in regard to children. “Google says if an app only targeting kids serves ads, then it must only use ads SDKs that have self-certified compliance with Google Play policies,” TechCrunch points out, adding that “the new policy changes come days after Google enforced its policy of declaring safety labels for apps on July 20.”