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Google Play cracks down on scammers and spammers

Google Play has updated its content policy to tighten its rules around in-app advertising, in-app payments and misrepresentation.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
3 min read

Google Play has updated its content policy to tighten its rules around in-app advertising, in-app payments and misrepresentation.

(Credit: Google)

Google Play's relatively lax content policy has led to a few problems that can make the consumer experience very annoying: relentless pop-ups, bloated software, fake reviews to make an app seem better than it is and misleading app descriptions.

Google has sent an email to third-party developers announcing changes to the content policy that aim to significantly clean up the Google Play store, making it a safer place for customers to download apps, TheNextWeb has reported. Developers have 30 days from the date of the email to clean up their apps or get booted from the store.

The biggest change seems to be that apps will no longer be allowed to make changes to a user's device without their knowledge or consent, according to a new System Interface section of the rules. This includes:

  • Behaviour such as replacing or reordering the default presentation of apps, widgets or the settings on the device. If an app makes such changes with the user's knowledge and consent, it must be clear to the user which app has made the change, and the user must be able to reverse the change easily, or by uninstalling the app altogether.

  • Apps and their ads must not add home-screen shortcuts, browser bookmarks or icons on the users device as a service to third parties or for advertising purposes.

  • Apps and their ads must not display advertisements through system level notifications on the user's device, unless the notifications derive from an integral feature provided by the installed app (eg, an airline app that notifies users of special deals, or a game that notifies users of in-game promotions).

  • Apps must not encourage, incentivise or mislead users into removing or disabling third-party apps except as part of a security service provided by the app.

The other big change that customers will probably notice is that apps can no longer falsely advertise what they contain, with a new "Impersonation or Deceptive Behaviour" section:

Don't pretend to be someone else, and don't represent that your app is authorised by or produced by another company or organisation if that is not the case. Products or the ads they contain also must not mimic functionality or warnings from the operating system or other applications. Products must not contain false or misleading information in any content, title, icon, description or screenshots. Developers must not divert users or provide links to any other site that mimics or passes itself off as another application or service. Apps must not have names or icons that appear confusingly similar to existing products, or to apps supplied with the device (such as Camera, Gallery or Messaging).

This means that, for example, that the app shown below on the left (on the right is the legitimate Temple Run app) is now violating Google Play's content policies.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

The store has now also banned gambling apps, "including but not limited to online casinos, sports betting and lotteries, or games of skill that offer prizes of cash or other value." Also, all in-app payments must be directed through the Google Play in-app billing service.

These are all areas in which Google Play has fallen short of Apple's standards. Although the store is rapidly catching up to Apple in terms of the number of apps it has available, many of those have been junk apps that attempt to fleece users at the cost of user experience. These policy changes ought to see a significant reduction in that kind of software.

Users should bear in mind, though, that these changes will only affect the Google Play store itself. Third-party Android app marketplaces are not subject to these rules and may still include malicious content.

If you do see apps that violate the content policy, you can report to Google. Instructions for doing so from within the Google Play store on your device can be found here; to report from within your browser, you can use the web form here.

You can read about the policy changes in greater detail at TheNextWeb.