Google Play July 2020 Policy Update introduces extended timeline for compliance, detailed violation emails, and other changes

Google Play July 2020 Policy Update introduces extended timeline for compliance, detailed violation emails, and other changes

The Google Play Store is the primary app distribution platform for the Android OS. Considering Android’s reach in the smartphone market and other segments, the Google Play Store occupies a very special, dominant position where even the smallest of changes can have a huge impact. So it’s important to document the changes that do happen to Google Play’s policy as they impact thousands of developers and millions of users. In a YouTube video, Mr. Joe Davis, Outreach and Policy Education Lead at Google, explains the July 2020 Policy Updates for Google Play. Notably, he talks about extended enforcement grace periods, policy violation outreach, and more.

Here are the topics covered in the video:

  • Updated Policy Center
    • New platform
    • Cleaner language
    • More examples
  • Updated enforcement practices
    • Extended time for new apps
    • Specific enforcement dates named
    • More detailed policy enforcement email
  • July 2020 Policy Updates
  • Play Console Beta
    • Policy-centric enhancements

Updated Policy Center

Google has migrated its Policy Center to a new Help Center Platform hosted within the Play Console Help Center. This move presented Google with an opportunity to simplify its policy language. The language is now supposed to be clearer and includes more examples and screenshots to aid in understanding the actual policy, instead of confusing developers with legalese and unclear language. The Policy Center can be found at play.google.com/policy with a redirect taking you to the updated pages.

Updated Enforcement Practices

Google will be announcing all Policy Updates on the Updates Preview page. When the changes announced in the Policy Update do go into effect, the Updates Preview page will be updated to reflect the current active policy. A new change over here is that all new apps and games, as well as older, existing apps and games, will have 30 days from the announcement of a Policy Change to ensure that their applications comply with the latest notified changes. Google also recognizes that some policy updates may take longer to adapt to, so those will come with a longer grace period as needed.

Google will also be including the specific date for the changes to come into effect, which will ensure that the message is clear and there is no room for confusion.

Further, Google has actually taken feedback from developers. A long-standing complaint from developers is the fact that its communications are rather vague and opaque. If an app is taken down, developers are left scratching their heads on the policy violation they have committed that led to the app’s removal. Apple actually showed off its move towards app-developer-friendliness at WWDC when it announced that developers could actually challenge policies. While Google isn’t allowing that just yet, it’s taking at least some step forward by being a bit more informative and transparent on the actual policy violation that an application has committed. This means that developers will now receive more details, like a screenshot of a violation or a text excerpt from the Play Store listing, or more details to make the violation clearer.

Further, guidance to correct the issue will also be attached, which should be helpful for amateur developers who may not be as well versed with the complex Play regulations. Nonetheless, transparency will be much appreciated by veterans and amateurs alike.

July 2020 Policy Updates

“News” app Policy

Google has added a new Policy section for apps that market themselves as News apps on the Play Store.

Notably, News apps must:

  • provide adequate information about the news publisher and its contributors including clear ownership, and
  • have a website or in-app page that provides valid contact information for the news publisher.

On the flip side, News apps must not:

  • contain significant spelling & grammar errors,
  • contain only static content, and
  • have affiliate marketing or ad revenue as its primary purpose.

News apps that require a membership must provide a content preview for users prior to purchase. For news aggregator apps, these must be transparent about the publishing source of the content in the app, and each of the sources must also meet the News policy requirements. Apps that mark themselves as “News” app and come clean on these guidelines will be permitted to be displayed on the Play Store’s News app sections.

AR Location Anchoring

Apps that rely on User-Generated Content (UGC) and feature Augmented Reality (AR) functionality placed upon such UGC must implement moderation systems that can be used to report objectionable images and images which anchor the AR object on top of a sensitive location.

Families Ads Policies

Google has clarified some ad practices that are prohibited on apps that target children. For instance, ads that interfere with normal app use or gameplay and are not closeable after 5 seconds are not allowed. But ads that do not interfere with normal app use or gameplay are allowed to persist for more than 5 seconds, provided they display a timer.

“All Files Access” Permission update

Apps targeting Android 11 (API level 30) that need to request broad access to device storage were said to require special permission from Google to keep their app on the Play Store. Google is permitting apps targeting Android 11 from a few categories, including file management, backup and restore apps, anti-virus apps, and document management apps, to have broader file access permissions. Apps falling in these categories will be permitted to use the new permission, though Google will also provide a temporary exception for apps that need broad file access as part of their core functionality and that can’t replicate the core functionality using the existing alternative APIs. Google wanted developers to submit a Declaration Form in the Play Console to be granted access to broad file management permissions in Android 11, but now, developers will have to wait a bit longer.

Because of COVID-19 and the workforce challenges the pandemic has brought along, Google is deferring allowing apps to be uploaded to Google Play with this permission until an unspecified date in early 2021. So, apps that target Android 11 (API level 30) and request All Files Access (the new “MANAGE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE” permission) cannot be uploaded to Google Play until the yet-undecided date in early 2021. This temporary uploading restriction affects new apps as well as updates to existing apps but is restricted to apps that both target Android 11 and request the MANAGE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE permission.

Google recommends that if your app needs the All Files Access permission, you should not update your target SDK level to Android 11 just yet. If your app targets Android 10 (API level 29) and has not yet been adapted for Scoped Storage, you are recommended to use the requestLegacyExternalStorage flag. If your app targets Android 10 and has been adapted for Scoped Storage, then simply have the user grant access to the directory or directories you need by calling the ACTION_OPEN_DOCUMENT_TREE intent. Keep in mind that once your app targets Android 11, you can no longer use this intent to gain access to the root directory of the external storage (/sdcard), the Download directory, the /Android/data directory, or the /Android/obb directory.

Google is ending the July 2020 update announcement with a recap on the timelines put together. In addition, here’s a slide from one of Google’s earlier videos that summarizes the situation with scoped storage:

For more details on this policy change, refer to this support page.

Google Play Console Beta — Policy Centric Enhancements

Google Play Console is also getting a few Policy-centric enhancements in the Beta release track. For instance, the Beta release track will soon get an Inbox feature that will feature pertinent policy updates. The beta will also include a new Policy compliance section that will display the current status for any policy violations in your app, and it will make it easier to provide information to prove compliance.

Google mentions that these sections will be enhanced over time to ensure that they are helpful to developers and reduce their worries.

About author

Aamir Siddiqui
Aamir Siddiqui

I am a tech journalist with XDA since 2015, while being a qualified business-litigation lawyer with experience in the field. A low-end smartphone purchase in 2011 brought me to the forums, and it's been a journey filled with custom ROMs ever since. When not fully dipped in smartphone news, I love traveling to places just to capture pictures of the sun setting. You can reach out to me at [email protected]