Google to Android app developers: Shape up or ship out

Google announced some tweaks to its Google Play policies yesterday, aimed at clarifying and clearing up its policies on sexually explicit content, app promotions, and potentially deceptive in-app advertisements.

The announcement, apparently emailed to developers and posted by Philadelphia-based IT pro Anthony Farrior, covers a range of issues. About half of them seem to be aimed at eliminating shady app developer tricks, such as making advertisements look like system dialog boxes or other aspects of an app's user interface, tracking consumers' usage or locations without proper permission, or making modifications to the browser on behalf of advertisers or third parties.

Developers are also prohibited from using SMS to communicate with customers without first getting explicit permission for that.

Developers have 15 days to comply. After that, Google says it will start issuing warnings - or removing noncompliant apps from the store.

The new policies suggest that Google might be taking some steps to tame the 'wild West' nature of the Google Play marketplace, which has been far more open-ended that Apple's iTunes App Store since its inception. Google has long taken a far less restrictive approach regarding which apps it allows into its own store, whereas Apple's App Store policies are often so restrictive that they have provoked controversy among developers. On the other hand, with such liberal policies, Android apps are much more likely to be riddled with advertising (or outright spam) as well as malware. Google's new policies are a step toward curbing that problem.

Separately, the FTC earlier this week told VentureBeat that it would begin enforcing new COPPA rules to protect minors from inappropriate advertising and tracking in mobile apps.

It would appear that Google - and the government - are both taking steps to rein in some of the excesses of the mobile advertising and app marketplace.

We've reached out to Google for clarification on the new policies, and we'll update this post if we receive a response.

The summary of changes, according to the email:

We've updated our content policies to further clarify our stance on sexually explicit material and provide a better experience for our users, including minors We're introducing the App Promotion policy, which provides guidance on what app promotion tactics are disallowed when promoting your app on Play We've introduced a provision that requires you to clearly disclose when an advertised feature in your app's description requires in-app payment We've clarified the System Interference policy to prohibit any browser modifications on behalf of third-parties or advertisements We've re-emphasized in the Ads Policy that all advertising behavior must be properly attributed to, or clearly presented in context with the app it came along with We've also updated the Spyware section of our Policy Guidelines Help Site to address surveillance or tracking apps. Please take a look at the Google Play Developer Program Policy to see all the changes and make sure your app complies with our updated policies.

Hat tip: TechCrunch

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