[Update: Google clarifies] Google removes “Remove China Apps” from the Play Store, likely for violating policy on deceptive behavior
The anti-China sentiment in India has seen a steep rise in the last few weeks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the India-China border stand-off. As a result, several call-to-action messages urging users to boycott Chinese products and uninstall Chinese apps have been circulating on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. Capitalizing on the prevailing sentiment, Jaipur-based OneTouch AppLabs released an app called “Remove China Apps” on the Google Play Store on May 17th.
As its name suggests, the app is designed to help users uninstall apps from Chinese developers, which includes popular names like TikTok, ShareIt, CamScanner, and more. The app quickly rose to popularity soon after its release, reaching over one million downloads in less than two weeks and securing the second spot in the Google Play Store’s list of top free apps in India. However, the app’s popularity was quite shortlived as it has now been removed from the Play Store for allegedly violating the platform’s policy on deceptive behavior.
According to a recent report from Reuters, a Google spokesperson has confirmed that the “Remove China App” has been removed from the Play Store as it violated the app store’s policies. While the company itself hasn’t revealed exactly which policies were being violated by the app, a person familiar with the matter claims that the app violated policies that mislead users into removing or disabling third-party apps or modifying device settings or features.
As a report from TechCrunch points out, the app was likely violating the Play Store’s Deceptive Behavior Policy. This policy states that the Play Store doesn’t allow “Apps that encourage or incentivize users into removing or disabling third-party apps or modifying device settings or features unless it is part of a verifiable security service.” Since the app was just riding on the anti-China sentiment and wasn’t a part of a verifiable security service, Google ended up taking it down from the Play Store. The app was very likely matching the list of installed apps on the phone against a repository of popular apps with Chinese origin — unsurprisingly, the app failed to identify less popular apps, indicating that there was no real effort put into even towards its core purpose.
“Remove China App” developer OneTouch AppLabs has released a statement regarding the takedown on its website, thanking users for their support. The company hasn’t shed any light on the reason behind the takedown and did not respond to Reuters’ request for a comment on the matter.
Update: Google clarifies policy violation for removal
In a blog post, Google India has clarified why certain apps were removed from the Play Store.
“We also recently suspended a number of apps for violating the policy that we don’t allow an app that “encourages or incentivizes users into removing or disabling third-party apps or modifying device settings or features unless it is part of a verifiable security service”. This is a longstanding rule designed to ensure a healthy, competitive environment where developers can succeed based upon design and innovation. When apps are allowed to specifically target other apps, it can lead to behavior that we believe is not in the best interest of our community of developers and consumers. We’ve enforced this policy against other apps in many countries consistently in the past – just as we did here.”
While Google has not clearly mentioned the name of the app, the company is clearly referring to “Remove China Apps” app in this instance as it is one of the cases that received widespread attention within the past few days. The wording of the statements goes on to indicate that the app is unlikely to make its way back to the Play Store.