Google takes action against developer that used sexually explicit ads to promote their game
With millions of apps to oversee on the Play Store, Google faces an uphill battle as it tries to police what goes on in its app store. Of course, it’s Google’s responsibility to ensure the Play Store is free of spam and malicious apps, so people aren’t interested in hearing an excuse when a highly-ranked app with obvious policy violations slips under their radar. A viral tweet from Michael Mc (@TizzyEnt on Twitter) this week called attention to one such app on Google Play, which was caught using sexually explicit (bordering on rapey) advertisements to promote the game.
The Twitter user’s video, which seems to be cross-posted from TikTok, credits another user named @jollygoodginger for sharing a screen recording from user @wtfgoogleplay. In @wtfgoogleplay’s video, we can see that, after completing a level in what appears to be a bog standard “connect the dots” style game, the user is shown an advertisement for another game called “LUV – interactive game.” The practice of showing an advertisement for another app or product is not uncommon in free-to-play mobile games, but the content of the ad in question prompted @wtfgoogleplay to take action.
The advertisement, which you can see in TizzyEnt’s tweet embedded below, does not need an explanation for why it’s problematic. The ad quite clearly violates Google Play’s App Promotion guidelines, which states that “using sexually explicit ads to direct users to your app’s Google Play listing for download” is a common violation of the company’s Developer Program Policies.
Why is this in the Google play store? pic.twitter.com/5BvwKNXcIR
— Michael Mc (@TizzyEnt) September 17, 2021
Today, a Google spokesperson informed us that the game in question was removed from Google Play for violating said policy. “Google Play’s policies strictly prohibit developers from using sexually explicit ads to direct users to their app’s listing in the Play Store. When violations are found, we take appropriate action,” said the Google spokesperson.
The game has indeed been delisted from Google Play, and it appears that the developer’s account has also been suspended. A two-day old archive of the game’s Play Store listing reveals the app had millions of downloads before it was pulled, and that it featured in-app purchases ranging in price from €0.50 to a whopping €343.16. The landing page of the developer’s website appears to have been wiped, though archives show this occurred sometime before today’s app takedown. A two-year old archive of the site shows two of the other games developed by the company, both of which have also been pulled (one from Facebook and the other from Google Play.)
In any case, this certainly won’t be the last time we’ll hear about games like this. There’s no shortage of low-effort, exploitative games out there that take advantage of lapses in app store policing to garner tens of thousands — and in this case, millions — of downloads before being removed. Once one app is removed, the same developers — or a copycat — can rinse-and-repeat the process. The developers of this game can, of course, appeal Google’s decision to suspend the game, a process all developers are entitled to follow if they feel the removal was done in error. However, even assuming that the developers contracted out the creation of this ad, they would still likely be at fault here, as Google’s App Promotion guidelines clearly state that “it is [the developer’s] responsibility to ensure that any ad networks, affiliates, or ads associated with [their] app comply with these policies.”
On the other hand, Google may also share some of the responsibility if they were involved in allowing this ad to run. Without knowledge of what ad network was used, we can’t say for sure, however. We’ve reached out to Google to clarify if the ad ran through their network as well as to learn how the company approaches vetting ads on Google Play.