Ok, Google...

tl;dr: The Google Play developer program needs to change. If you are interested in making that happen, join me.

Today is international worker's day. What better time to talk about the way Google has been treating us as developers.

We have all seen the posts by developers on Reddit, on Twitter, on Medium that go something like this... "Help! My app has been suspended" or "My account has been terminated". Sometimes the post gets lots of attention, employees at Google are looped into the conversation and the app or account is reinstated. However, most of the time the post languishes and the developer is left trying to figure out how they may have fallen afoul of the developer agreement and afraid to submit an update or appeal in case they haven't identified the right issue.

There are certainly also many cases where, once all the facts are revealed, it turns out the developer was breaking a rule either intentionally or unintentionally. In the end it doesn't really matter, the perception is that publishing an app on the Play store is a craps shoot and the only way to get a fair hearing for your appeal is for your post on social media to get a lot of traction.

Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

Personally, I've decided it's not a risk worth taking and I have unpublished 3 apps from the Play store. I doubt I'm the only one. My personal, side-projects are just not worth risking my career as an Android developer.

Social media may be the best way to get fair treatment, but who needs fair treatment when you can get special treatment. It has also become abundantly clear that there are actually two developer programs: One for regular developers where Google will hand down a lifetime ban using a canned email message and the other for developers who might be breaking a few rules (and quite possibly a few laws), but make Google a lot of money. Those developers get the special treatment.

Cheetah Mobile, oh Cheetah Mobile, we can't say you didn't warn us - the clue is right there in your name. Cheetah Mobile appears to have published 80 apps under 15 different accounts. Most of their apps require an insane number of permissions and are of dubious utility - but that is a subject for a different conversation. What's important to know is that their apps have over 115 million active users and nearly 2.5 billion installs. In November of last year Cheetah Mobile was accused of "engaging in massive click fraud scheme".

Seven of the potentially fraudulent apps are from Cheetah Mobile, and you've probably heard of them: Clean Master, Security Master, CM Launcher 3D, Battery Doctor, Cheetah Keyboard, CM Locker, and CM File Manager. The last app is Kika Keyboard from Kika Tech, which got investment cash from Cheetah in 2016.

Google conducted an investigation and published "Tackling ads abuse in apps and SDKs" a few days later.

On Monday, we removed two apps from the Play Store because our investigation discovered evidence of app install attribution abuse.
We also discovered evidence of app install attribution abuse in 3 ad network SDKs. We have asked the impacted developers to remove those SDKs from their apps. Because we believe most of these developers were not aware of the behavior from these third-party SDKs, we have given them a short grace period to take action.

Google did not name the publishers or the apps. Not only that, Cheetah Games and Cheetah Mobile (Photo Editor) are still "Editors' Choice" publishers. AdMob did delete the "success story" they wrote about them though.

If Cheetah Mobile were a normal developer and the regular rules applied, we all know what would have happened - zero question.

Ban hammer - Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

There must be a happy medium somewhere in the middle, where independent developers aren't given lifetime bans with little recourse and big publishers are given more than just a slap on the wrist when they engage in fraud.

Even Google has admitted that they need to improve the way they treat us. They recently announced that they would be making changes, but that announcement has been received with a healthy dose of skepticism. Understandably so.

In 2016, when Apple announced that that subscriptions would be split 85/15 after the first year, Google announced they would be doing an 85/15 split from the beginning of the subscription. 18 months later, when Google finally changed their rates, the split was 70/30 for the first year and 85/15 after that.

I'll believe it when I see it, Google.

In the mean time, let's not sit around waiting for Google to slowly realize that they need us more than we need them. Let's get together, discuss the changes we want to see and then press Google to make those changes.

What are those changes? Personally, here are some of the changes I'd like to see

  • Play store rules enforced more consistently
  • Clearer communication surrounding strikes and bans
  • Strikes should expire
  • Bans should not necessarily always be lifetime bans
  • Find ways of being more accommodating of new and indie/hobbyist developers

What about you? What do you want Google to change about the developer program? Let's make those changes happen.

Join me, if you are interested. I will set up a discourse forum for us to gather information, formulate a list of changes we would like to see and to figure out how to most effectively pressure Google into making those changes.

Interested in change? Click here


Comments? Join the discussion on Reddit

Cover photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
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