Google announces changes to Play Store policy to combat misinformation, limit ads, and tighten security

The app landscape is always changing, and with it, app market owners have to adapt to keep up with their policies. Google today announced a ton of Google Play Store policies that will be implemented over the coming months, ranging from minor to fairly significant. Some changes will really only be noticed by developers, but some, like unsubscribing, should be immediately apparent to users.

If you have an app that may violate any of these policies, Google says that all new and existing apps will receive a grace period of at least 30 days beginning July 27, 2022 (unless otherwise stated) to comply with the following changes.

Google Play Store Policy Changes

Restricting the USE_EXACT_ALARM permission (effective July 31, 2022)

The first policy change that will take effect will affect developers targeting API Level 32, or Android 13, Google introduced USE_EXACT_ALARM permission with android 13 beta 2, For an app to be approved for distribution on the Google Play Store, it must meet the following criteria.

  • Your app is an alarm app or a clock app.
  • Your app is a calendar app that shows notifications for upcoming events.

Google previously said that this policy change would come when it announced the USE_EXACT_ALARM permission.

Limiting health misinformation and impersonation (effective August 31, 2022)

The first policy change that will take effect and affect all users, will limit the spread of health-related misinformation and will be aimed at preventing impersonation. What is considered a health misinformation violation is the following:

  • Misleading claims about vaccines, such as vaccines can change someone’s DNA.
  • Advocating for harmful, unapproved treatments.
  • Advocating other harmful health practices, such as conversion therapy.

In relation to impersonation, the following are considered a violation of the new impersonation policy:

  • Developers who falsely imply association with 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 existing products or services as to mislead users.
  • Apps that falsely claim to be an official app of an installed entity. Headings like “Justin Bieber Official” are not allowed without the required permissions or rights.
  • Apps that violate Android Brand Guidelines,

google examples of impersonation

Improved interstitial ads and easy subscription cancellation (effective September 30, 2022)

Have you ever encountered an interstitial ad that seemed out of nowhere, or was lying around for too long? Google is now limiting how developers can use them in their apps to improve the user experience. Google says that developers cannot show ads to users in the following unexpected ways.

  • Full-screen interstitial ads of all formats (video, GIF, still, etc.) are not allowed, which are displayed unexpectedly, usually when the user has chosen to do something else.
    • Advertisements displayed during gameplay at the beginning of a level or at the beginning of a content section are not permitted.
    • Full-screen video interstitial ads displayed before the loading screen (splash screen) of an app are not allowed.
  • Full-screen interstitial ads of all formats are not allowed, which cannot be turned off after 15 seconds. Opt-in full-screen interstitials or full-screen interstitials that do not interrupt users’ actions (for example, after a score screen in a game app) may continue for more than 15 seconds.

For easy cancellation of subscription, it should now be easy for the user to cancel his subscription. It should be visible in the account settings (or equivalent page) of the app by including the following:

  • Link to the Google Play Subscription Center (for applications that use Google Play’s billing system); and/or
  • Direct access to your cancellation process.

Ban on stalkerware, apps and apps using VPN service must respect FLAG_SECURE

The apps that can be used to track people are always controversial, but some believe they can act as an effective parenting tool. Others may want to use them so that their family members can keep an eye on them while they are outside, especially in cases where they are in a dangerous or unsafe location. However, these tools are often prone to abuse, and Google is introducing some changes to help mitigate this. A metadata flag of “IsMonitoringTool” must also be declared, and monitoring apps must also comply with the following:

  • Apps should not present themselves as espionage or covert surveillance solutions.
  • Apps should not hide or hide tracking behavior or attempt to mislead users about such functionality.
  • Apps should present users with a continuous notification at all times when the app is running and with 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 non-compliant APKs hosted outside of Google Play.
  • Apps must comply with any applicable laws. You are solely responsible for determining the validity of your app in the target locale.

In the case of apps that use a VPN service, a long time ago Google cracked down on ad-blocking apps on the Play Store, including those that only used VPNService to essentially filter out ad servers. was. Now the company is saying that only apps that use VPNService and have VPN as their core functionality can create a secure device-level tunnel to a remote server. There are exceptions though, and they include:

  • Parental control and enterprise management app.
  • App usage tracking.
  • Device security apps (eg, anti-virus, mobile device management, firewall).
  • Network-related equipment (for example, remote access).
  • web browsing apps.
  • Carrier apps that require the use of VPN functionality to provide telephony or connectivity services.

VPNService should not be used to do the following:

  • Collect personal and sensitive user data without major disclosure and consent.
  • Redirecting or manipulating user traffic from other apps on the device for monetization purposes (for example, redirecting advertising traffic through a country different from that of the user).
  • Manipulate ads that may affect app monetization.

Finally, apps must now respect FLAG_SECURE. Apps should not provide facility or create workarounds to bypass FLAG_SECURE settings in other apps. FLAG_SECURE is what prevents certain content from showing up on screenshots or untrusted displays. Apps that qualify as accessibility tools are exempt from this requirement, as long as they do not transmit, save or cache FLAG_SECURE protected content for access outside the user’s device.

Google cracks down on dodgy apps

It’s great to see Google cracking down on dodgy apps and restricting capabilities to stalkerware and the like. However, apparently even normal apps are going to catch on in Crossfire, and that’s generally always the case when changes like this come into play. For example, would DuckDuckGo now be in trouble as an app? There’s a VPN That Can Kill Ads device-wide?

Deceptive apps come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s hard to selectively enforce policies that don’t affect even perfectly reasonable apps. We’ll definitely keep an eye out and see if there might be any other changes on the horizon for some of us. Favorite Apps,

Source: Google

via: Mishal Rahmani

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