Google Play is often regarded as one of the most unwalled of the walled gardens, but after reading this tale of woe you might want to think again.
App stores are great in that they provide a way to sell your work, but what if that exclusive app store refuses to take your work? You could be making a good living one moment and be thrown out on the streets the next. And none of it is under your control.
We simply trust that app stores are run by sensitive caring people who have your best interests at heart - as if...
A recent blog post by Steve Gehrman recounts a long and complicated story of how one developer managed to get banned from Google Play for life and had his Google Wallet account banned so that he is no longer even able to buy things from Play.
Gehrman was just learning Android programming and had a bright idea. His children used YouTube to view Khan Academy so what about an app that takes the user directly to the Khan Academy videos. A simple app, but something to get your feet wet with. And once you have the idea and the basic app why not generalize it and use it to access a number of specific channels.
This is where things might have started to go a little wrong. Gehrman submitted 10 apps to the store as a sort of experiment. He says that he wasn't taking it very seriously and it really was an experiment - what could go wrong?
The scary answer is quite a lot.
Many programmers don't bother reading the small print of the app stores that they submit their programs to. Actually, who does read the small print of anything? You sort of assume that as no one is complaining loudly the terms must be reasonable. It is a herd mentality and it's common.
A few weeks later Gehrman received a notice of suspension for one of the apps for impersonating another company. He reasoned that this was probably some over-reaction by a company over-keen to guard its property. After all the app presented material that you can find on the web and there was a disclaimer that the app wasn't official. It all still seemed harmless enough. After all there were still nine apps standing so it couldn't be that serious.
Google refused to help with the problem of getting the app unsuspened and so Gehrman decided to just ignore the app - it was only an experiment. Then a second suspension notice arrived and then a third.
At this point Gehrman's Play account was terminated for life.
Yes it's a "three strikes and you are out" policy.
Did you know?
Nor did Gehrman. Because of this he thought that the suspensions were a nuisance, but not a serious threat to his future Android programming.
A right of appeal I hear you shout.
Yes, there is one. You can click the link that give you a chance to explain why you don't deserve having your account terminated. Gehrman tried, submitting at 3:00 am and getting a response at 3:20 am, and was turned down. Do you think there was a human involved in this transaction? It doesn't seem likely, does it?
The final worry is that as well as having his Play account terminated so was his Google Wallet:
“Thank you for using Google Wallet. We have noticed some activity on your account that has prompted us to temporarily suspend use of this account for your security.”
It seems that this is directly linked to the Play termination and others report that it is permanent and not temporary. Google refused to explain why without some complicated security checks.
You can say that Gehrman was a bit naive in submitting apps in such a careless, or perhaps carefree, way, but where were the warning signs to alert him to the fact that he was entering a very dangerous place?
The irony is that he claims to have given up iOS programming and the entire Apple ecosystem because of its walled garden approach to apps. He actually moved to Android because it seemed to be freer and a much nicer place.
If you want the fine details of what happened you should read the entire blog post. But if you are already convinced that this is no way to treat a developer then just go and sign his petition - it only has a handful of supporters at the time of writing.