It drives developers crazy, realizing that their developer account has just been banned for life by Google for no discernible reason at all. The feeling of loss is there, especially the feeling of betrayal. But they should have known better. The last sentence in the Policy Guidelines & Practices clearly states that: Google is not required to send you a warning prior to suspension or termination. This may sound mean but Google also wants developers to read between the lines and self-regulate.
It’s like going home and finding your parents mad at you. They don’t say anything but looks at you like you perfectly know what they mean (of course you don’t!) but down the line you know you did something to displease your passive-aggressive parents. The best short-term solution is to trace your steps and look for tiny details. Even the simplest things can magnify and cause you to be in the situation that you are now.
The Reasons behind a Banned Google Developer account
You could’ve done infractions at all levels possible. Inclusive to the content policies are the contents of your app, whether it be in the UI or assets; links to your app, ads, user-generated content that your app hosts or links to your app; content from your developer account, even the landing page of your developer website and even your app’s content rating.
Some of the things in your app content that can get you in trouble:
- Sexual explicitness. Child porn would immediately warrant developer account termination.
- Gratuitous violence and bullying. This two go together since bullying can cause depictions of gratuitous violence. Just fitting in the “gratuitous violence” box is difficult. Just make sure that any forms of violence aren’t one-sided, especially if done by a human being to a helpless human being. Deer, bears and other wild animals not included (what are we going to shoot then, zombies?).
- Hate speech. Why not make it general hate? Don’t promote hate in your apps, that’s bad.
- Sensitive events (see item no. 2 for more details).
- Impersonation or deceptive behavior. A lot of apps skirt around this policy. Knockoffs most often than not appear quite similar to the original not only by name but also appearance down to UI and icons. Also, using other brands or companies that make the impression that you are representing them; “for Twitter”, “for Facebook”, etc. The information you provide about the apps should be real, including the icons, screenshots, and descriptions.
You should not use these elements in order to deceive users into thinking that your app is another (more popular) app. App notifications and ads that appear as though they are a system or network notifications are also under this policy.
- Infringing intellectual properties. Check if someone trademarked a word or iconography featured in your app. Say for example, if King successfully trademarked “candy” as their own, any apps with decadent sweet tooth using that word surely suffer the legal wrath of King.
- Sharing of sensitive personal information. You should not collect personal information from your users for the purpose of publishing it. This includes, information gleaned from credit cards, IDs, phone contact list and non-public information that your user would surely hate to share to fraud syndicates. You should disclose beforehand, what type of information you are going to collect in your app and the user should be able to refuse to give this information.
- Illegal activities. Make sure that your app doesn’t break any law in their countries of distribution. Most of the time, the only requirement is the compliance to the US and distribution region’s trading laws.
- Gambling. Slots, poker, and other casino games are obviously all over the Play Store. But they are not allowed to give out real prizes that can encourage users to do real-time gambling.
- Dangerous Products that can interfere with a device’s system. Keep your malware and spyware to yourself. Also, thou shalt not lead users astray from Google Play Store by providing download or update links that are from an outside source. This also includes apps or ads that interfere with the user’s device settings and system without their knowledge.
- Violating users’ Authorized Carrier’s terms of service. An app must not deliberately create unpredictable network usage by using a lot of bandwidth, swelling data charges and sending automated messages beyond the users’ knowledge and control.
- Spam of course. Spam apps include duplicate apps or apps with repetitive content (this may refer to barely-modified reskins). There are also practices that fall under the spam category. These are keyword stuffing, fake ratings and other ratings and ranking manipulations. Apps submitted via instant app maker wizards are also spamming before Google’s eyes.
- Dummy apps. Apps with the main functionality of driving affiliate traffic and providing web views of a website not owned by you is a no-no.
- Aggressive promotion. Do not create deceptive links that would direct users to a website outside of the Google Play Store without their knowledge or use said link as a direct download link to the shock of the users. Apps aren’t also allowed to send promotional SMS and email to users unless they subscribed to it.
- You should only use Google Play’s payment system. This for paid apps and in-app purchases (or any transaction in the Play Store that involves money).
- Do not use ads without opt-out options. The availability and visibility of a close button are important. You should not require your users to click some ads before proceeding to the next level.
- Defective apps. Google may take down your app if it is “impacting the in the integrity of Google servers” when it is inaccessible for download or use and the user may just think that it’s Google servers’ fault.
Prevention and Intervention for Your Apps
- Review all that is needed to be reviewed. Go to Google Play Developer Policy center to review developer program and content policies. You can also access the Google Play Developer Distribution Agreement from the Play Developer Policy page. Finally, there are Content Ratings for Apps & Games (for good measure). These materials need a thorough read before publishing an app. Google doesn’t do fine prints, they just put subtle hints in between and jumbled along the lines so do read carefully and familiarize yourself with these policies to the point that it becomes second nature.
- You should check if Google updated any of their policies and guidelines.It is confusing for many developers when Google shuts down multiple apps in their portfolio – apps that are live for more than a year. Recently, Google added Sensitive Events in their Content Policies. It is basically penalizing developers for lack of sensitivity to natural disasters, conflict, death and other atrocities done by man, nature, and fate.
- Someone may have flagged you and your apps. Probably anyone with a Google account can make a complaint about an app in Google Play. Developers may cite how another app wasn’t taken down. Well, Google won’t notice them immediately if no one complains. Issues like trademark infringement and inappropriate content (any violation of the content policies may make the content inappropriate) receive a thorough investigation. Flagged content, on the other hand, immediately gets Google’s attention.
- Google’s automated app verification feature may be blocking users from downloading your app because it has some harmful features. This may or may not be due to policy violation since the feature can inappropriately block your app for some reason. If the former is the case, your developer account may receive a strike because of this.
- Don’t ignore the notifications and warnings that Google sends to your inbox. These warnings and notifications are strikes that threaten the good standing of your developer account. It is not clear, though, how many strikes cause termination. But most of the time, you’ll receive a warning that your app is teetering on the brink of suspension. If you don’t make the required changes and launch a compliant app, Google would either suspend your app or even your developer account. Google will also terminate your developer account if you are slow in making adjustments. The same will happen if Google informed you of multiple strikes in a short interval. This is regardless of any adjustments you create during the time.
- Google may have taken down your everything in the Play Store just so. According to Section 7.2 (under Product Takedowns) of the Google Play Developer Distribution Agreement, ‘Google may remove the Product from the Store or reclassify the Product at its sole discretion. Google reserves the right to suspend and/or bar any Developer from the Store at its sole discretion.’ So stop asking why if confusion still wreaks havoc to your brain after reading all the policies and guidelines.
But what constitutes a strike? What can hurt your app can’t necessary hurt your developer account, right?
The Strike System
- Rejected updates. It’s just like being rejected by a girl; it’s not the end of the world. You can move on after several hours. There are several reasons for the rejection of updates. A recent thing developers may miss is the new rating system implemented on May 5, 2015. All new app updates (and app release) should have the local rating system before release. You just need to fill out a questionnaire in the developer console. If you fail to do so, you’ll find your app blocked in some areas.
- One app removal. Google removed one of your apps! No problemo, make that app don a suit and now it is presentable. Update! And then Google returns your gazillion statistics and users.
- Suspension as a result of the repeats of the above-mentioned actions by Google. Sometimes, the suspension is due to non-app related policy violations. Google usually warns a developer of an incoming suspension. But as stated earlier, they are not obligated to do so, not even out of moral grounds. So the notifications you may receive are suspensions. Most of the time, the notification of termination of your developer account comes next.
This is not like appealing in the court. Google may not give you enough time to lodge pertinent data for your appeal. That’s why some takedowns appear quite sudden. Appeals can be like crashing in a wedding and making the dramatic objection before either the bride or groom says “I do”. The wedding might halt or would just go on as if you don’t exist at all. Most of the time, though, the bride or groom would just say “It’s not worth it”. And when they realize they made a mistake, it’s too late to undo. This is often the case with Google. Even if Google reinstates your app or developer account, there’s still damage control to worry about. You basically start all over again.
Is there life after termination?
Normally for Google, it’s a no. Account termination also entails the termination all apps in your catalog. You basically forfeit everything. This includes associated accounts and any Google services you avail of. This may (or not in a slim chance) include Google Wallet, AdMob and AdSense accounts.
You are also restricted from applying for another developer account. This restriction is mainly imposed to developers whose previous accounts faced termination for the violation of the Developer Terms. This, in hindsight, is probably the only reason the developer account termination in the first place. If you do attempt, they will allow you first to pay the registration fee before terminating you again. Google states that “…any new accounts that you try to open will be terminated without a refund of the developer registration fee.”
So, what’s next?
That being said, there are people who buy ready-made Google Developer Accounts. They pay from 50 to 80$ in order to use the said developer accounts. Because that’s against Google agreements, if they found out about it, they will close your Google Developer account. I will talk about this point in more details in a future article. Stay tuned 🙂
Comment below if you ever had your google developer account banned. Tell us what you did about it and if you found what was the cause in your case.
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