Google is trying to stop annoying non-skippable ads in Android apps and general bad behavior on the Play Store (via TechCrunch). The company announced sweeping policy changes on Wednesday, updating rules in several categories to be more specific and closing loopholes developers may have used to circumvent existing rules.
One of the changes that will have the biggest impact on your day-to-day phone usage concerns advertising. Google says its updated policies, effective September 30, will help ensure “quality experiences for users when using Google Play apps.” The new policy tells developers that apps can’t display a full-screen ad that you can’t close after 15 seconds. There are some exceptions – if you voluntarily choose to watch an ad to earn reward points, or if it appears during a pause in the promotion, these rules don’t necessarily apply.
Google’s current policy states that ads “must be easy to close without penalty” and that you must be able to close full-screen ads, but the 15-second benchmark is new. While that’s still a bit of a wait, it makes it so you don’t have to sit through a two-minute ad where the (tiny, hard-to-see) “x” only appears directly in the ad after 70 seconds in the middle of a game or while trying to do something else.
The new rules also specify that ads should not be “unexpected” and should appear right after a level or article loads. Again, the current rules already state that disruptive surprise ads aren’t allowed, but the new rules provide additional specific examples of violations.
Note that the advertising guidelines for apps aimed at children are stricter. While Google isn’t changing much about what types of ads developers can show children, starting in November it will be making some changes to the tools developers use to serve those ads.
Google is also making changes to how apps use Android’s (or Android’s) built-in VPN vvirtual privet nnetwork) tools. Apps are not allowed to implement their own VPNs to collect user data unless they get the user’s explicit permission, and they cannot use VPNs to help users bypass or modify ads from other apps. Mishaal Rahman, technical editor at Esper, pointed this out on Twitter could help curb ad fraud where users pretend to be clicking on ads from one country when they are actually in another but says that it could Also Impacting things like DuckDuckGo’s privacy-focused app-tracking protection.
Google’s new rules also include some other changes. For example, developers must link in their app to an “ease of use online method” to cancel subscriptions if their app sells subscriptions — the company says linking to Google Play’s subscription center counts. Google is also cracking down on health misinformation, adding a section saying apps can’t contain misleading information about vaccines, unapproved treatments, or “other harmful health practices like conversion therapies.”
The update also makes some changes to the language around tracking apps, or “stalkerware,” which states that any app designed to track people must use a specific flag that tells Google what it’s doing, and that apps must say they can monitor or track you in their Play Store description. (These types of apps are still only allowed to track employees and children — Google specifically says that using these apps to track another person, such as a spouse, is prohibited, even if the user claims that the person being tracked is aware of it.)
There’s a slightly humorous tidbit in the updated “Impersonation” section – alongside other companies, developers and organizations, Google’s new rules state that developers must not try to make people believe their app is connected to an “entity” if it is not. As an example of what this means, Google shows an app with iconography that could lead users to believe it is connected to a government or cryptocurrency project. (There’s also a funny line about how you can’t name your app “Justin Bieber Official” unless you actually are Justin Bieber or have his permission, but it was already in the existing guidelines.)
This example appears to be perfect timing on the part of Google. Although the policy won’t go into effect until late August, the company announced it just a day before Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sent him a letter asking for more information on rogue crypto apps on the Play Store .