Fear And Loathing In The App Store 4 - When Apps Vanish
Written by Lucy Black
Wednesday, 30 April 2014
The control that the owners of the app stores exercise is absolute, but this story doesn't even relate to the app or its quality but to the app's description.
We live in a time when programming isn't free. We have traded our independence for an opportunity to make money but we can only profit if the app store is fair honest and as open as possible.
This doesn't seem to be the case.
In this story of fear and loathing in the app store it is Google who is unresponsive. Of course you can say that this is just a manifestation of Google's general unresponsiveness to customer care. If I were to ask you where to go to complain or get help with almost anything Google related, you probably wouldn't be able to give me a good answer.
When it comes to programmers surely this can't be the case as Google knows that much of its credibility, if not its actual income depends on the good will of programmers. If this is not the case then ask why it goes to such lengths to ensure that Google I/O is such a big event?
Now let's return to the app store.
Developer Andrew Pearson recounts an interesting story on his blog. Essentially what happened was that suddenly his app went missing. It became one of the disappeared and users were complaining. He then got a "boiler plate" email from Google saying that his app had been suspended because it violated the keyword spam policy:
Do not use irrelevant, misleading, or excessive keywords in apps descriptions, titles, or metadata.
The first big problem was caused by the fact that when Google suspends an app you lose all access to it so there was no easy way to check the relevant keyword entries. It turns out that the keyword list was a bit on the long side.
The app provided free access to live music recordings and didn't charge or even show advertising. It had been available for some time; it had a good user rating and an estimated 50,000 users.
The keyword list was a very long list of the artists available to listen to - about four pages on a mobile phone. But the keywords were relevant and certainly not misleading. As to excessive, the argument used is that the list of keywords fitted into the box that Google provided and it would have been easy for Google to ask for the list to be trimmed rather than suspending the app. It is also suggested that having all of the artists in the list of keywords was how users generally found the app.
The point is that the keyword list was relevant and not misleading and so any keyword list of the length that Google allows would be classed as excessive - in which case why allow that excessive length?
The rest of the story will be familiar to anyone who has encountered the app appeals procedure - you get 1000 characters to make your case even though you don't necessarily know what your app has been accused of. After submitting a claim that the app was not violating any policies an email followed with a final decision which of course read "No". As usual the response time was such that the suspicion is that no humans were involved in the appeal process. There is no response to the appeal just a restatement of the original email's validity in suspending your app.
Notice that even though this was a problem with the app's description, there was no way to modify that description to make it compliant. More to the point, Google didn't even make clear what changes might make it acceptable even if it was possible to modify it.
The only option was to post a new version of the app with a new name and hence no follow on with users or ratings. It basically leaves users thinking the app has gone.
In this case it does seem that perhaps the keyword list was excessive. But given that Google allows programmers to submit such long lists, there is a failure to provide clear guidance.
Even though the developer was willing to change the Play store description there was no opportunity to do so - Google simply pulled down the shutter. This might be a reasonable thing to do if the problem is with the app - in which case a new version is probably required, but surely editing the description should be an allowable solution?
At the end of the day you can side with Google as being a tough enforcer of rules that help other apps - but the lack of the ability to correct a mistake and to appeal in any meaningful sense are things that could come back to hurt you in the future, unless of course you never make a mistake.