It’s hardly controversial to say that the Play Store hasn’t been handled amazingly by Google. Even when they were a constant irritation to the Play Store’s users, it still took Google 10 years to even start formulating a plan to address those god-awful full-screen ads present in many games and apps. A silly example, perhaps, but misinformation, impersonation, and egregious monetization are far more serious problems. Luckily Google has been publicly listing its plans to remedy many of these issues. AP wants to ensure everyone is aware of what’s going on with these changes, so we’ve rounded up some of the latest policy statements from Google to explain how they’re going to change the service for developers and customers alike.
So let’s dig in and see what’s new and what’s coming soon for the best Android phones in 2023, as some of the more recently-announced policy changes sound pretty promising.
Prohibiting unexpected interstitial ads
This is a big one. Interstitial ads are otherwise known as full-screen ads, you know, those annoying pop-ups that take over your entire screen when using mobile apps or playing mobile games. Prohibiting unexpected interstitial ads is a change inspired by the Coalition for Better Ads, which is certainly something that’s needed on Android after years of Google ignoring how many apps and games have been abusing advertising platforms by inundating everyone with ads that take up the entire screen at inopportune times.
While not all full-screen ads will go away when this new policy takes effect on September 30, 2022, ads that open at the beginning of the content and those that interrupt you in the middle of navigation will no longer be allowed.
It’s clear this has been a long-running problem on Android, and while we’re a little trepidations that Google will enforce its new advertising rules to an acceptable standard (seeing it took 10 years to even think about banning these kinds of ads), at the very least it would appear that things are finally moving in the correct direction where consumers will soon be protected from some of the nasty tricks employed by abusive developers, at least as far as disruptive full-screen ads are concerned. Ideally, this change will impact many mobile games, as well as apps, for the better.
Impersonation is finally out the door
There are thousands of apps that mimic the icons and names of popular content but are slightly off in order to not get sued. This is a tactic so old that online storefronts like Steam and The Play Store have almost become synonymous with these cheap knockoffs. These mimickers exist to confuse people into accidentally installing their cut-rate app, and Google will finally do something about this starting on August 31st. Soon enough, icons, app titles, developer names, and general branding will not be allowed to mimic entities that the app and developer aren’t connected to.
Ideally, this upcoming policy will have sweeping effects on mobile games and apps, as the Play Store is filled with blatant mimicry that has gotten out of hand. Now comes the tough job of evenly enforcing the policy, a drive to weed out imitators runs the risk of legitimate content being affected as well, a problem seen on Google’s other service, YouTube. Let’s hope Google’s bots are up to the task.
No more bogus medical advice
Also taking effect on August 31 is a new policy that forbids health advice that doesn’t align with medical consensus. Clearly, this policy was spurred by COVID to cut down on anything that doesn’t strictly follow current medical standards. People forget how crazy some of the false remedies for COVID were, silly yes, but life-threatening in some cases. However, it’s our hope this policy change will also encompass pseudoscientific subjects like crystal healing and astrology apps.
Easily canceled subscriptions
One of the primary reasons we hate subscriptions is that they are often forced on the user just to gain access to an app or service, and then, inevitably, it’s impossible to find the place to cancel, typically obfuscated on purpose. In comes Google with a quick fix where all apps that offer subscriptions will have to offer a clean way to cancel from within the app, thus finally solving a situation Google created by allowing subscriptions on the Play Store in the first place.
Sure, Google has always offered an easy way to cancel subscriptions in the Play Store settings under the Payments & Subscriptions page. While Google was slow to enforce unsubscribe options within each app, at the very least, we can all take comfort that every app and game will soon have to provide a quick and painless way to unsubscribe directly from the app after September 30th.
No data collection or manipulation for VPNs
Starting November 1st, VPN apps that wish to create a secure device-level tunnel to a remote server, a core function of a VPN, will have to follow new requirements that forbid data tacking (how was this not already a requirement?), as well as redirects and manipulation. What’s worrying is that the new policies also state VPNs can’t manipulate ads or impact app monetization, which sounds like Google is going after adblockers that use a VPN to remove ads from apps and web pages.
While we’ll have to wait until November to see precisely how this new policy unfolds, this change sounds like it will be advantageous to Google and the ads it sells through AdSense rather than something implemented to actually help consumers. Sure, the no tracking bit is nice enough dressing while being wholly unenforceable since nobody will ever have a clue if a VPN is logging data server-side, boiling this new policy change down to the fact many adblockers that use VPNs to hide ads will soon be forbidden.
So it’s looking like the endless game of whack-a-mole begins anew starting this November, where yet another workaround to Google’s insistence to block adblockers on Android will have to be sought out.
Third parties can no longer receive sensitive user data
This is another change we’re gobsmacked wasn’t already an existing policy. What Google calls stalkerware will not be allowed on Android after November 1st. If an app collects sensitive data, it can not send this data to a third party without proper consent from the user, which means apps will have to ask you for this data, and we’ll be free to tell those apps, “No.”
It would also appear that this encompasses apps that claim to offer surveillance solutions but are, in reality, spying apps for hidden cams. Seemingly, you can’t find results for hidden cam apps on the Play Store, so it would appear the upcoming policy already has some groundwork to tie into by seeing the last few “surveillance” apps getting the comeuppance after November.
More protections for children
This is an immediate change that’s already taken effect, where any app distributing content that facilitates the exploitation or abuse of children will be removed from the Play Store. And yes, this is a great move to ensure grooming and trafficking don’t take place within apps sold and installed from the Play Store. Digital media that preys on children is nothing new in the world of tech, but actual threats to individual safety cannot and will not be tolerated on a platform officially licensed by Google.
Filters for remotely installing apps
With this update, you’re capable of browsing multiple app libraries for different devices and can install them remotely from your Android phone. This is useful if you have a multitude of Play Store-compatible devices or want to explore what apps can be installed on future purchases. An update like this opens up an opportunity for experimentation, especially for those with compatible smartwatches and smart TVs, and even increases exposure for some new apps for your Android-powered car.
Play Games is expanding its repertoire
Play Games was already a good service, letting Play Store users record and compare game progress, get achievements, and compete on leaderboards. Now its scope is widening, incorporating even more titles into its line-up. Play Games’ main appeal is that it gives you way more control over your mobile gaming experience, letting you play built-in games instantly without needing to download, filtering games by type, saving progress, and start from where you left off in games that don’t have such a function, and even record footage. Its features seem to mirror emulators, only it has a home court advantage because the platform is designed specifically for mobile gaming.
Optimizations allowing faster and more reliable download and installation
Google is looking to grease the gears of its download and installation speeds. For some users, the time it takes to actually get into an app can be a deal breaker, and that makes this a great update for developers too. Then again, this particular gear is troublesome because it relies on certain factors that Google doesn’t control, such as your internet/data speed, device settings, or even just the size and stability of the app in question. While these factors are immutably related to the issue of download and install speed and stability, there isn’t a whole lot that Google can do to fix it. All it can do is tune up what’s making annoying noises on its end. Still, a slight improvement will be a welcome addition to the Play Store for consumers and devs alike.
Tighter rules on data sensitivity
Data sensitivity rules are nothing new, but these additions to Google’s FLAG_SECURE declaration make the mishandling of private information far more difficult by counteracting certain loopholes in the system. This FLAG_SECURE declaration is what prevents sensitive information from being captured in screenshots or shared in violation of the Play Store’s terms of service. You find this declaration on the store pages of apps concerning banking, legal contracts, medical information, etc. It’s good to know that Google is maintaining its defenses against scammers by keeping our data safe.
What does all of this policy talk mean?
Google doesn’t make a lot of statements about the services it runs, so it’s nice to see the company making an effort to let us know before a new policy is implemented. Many of these policies sound great on paper, though the proof will be in the pudding once policies are actually implemented.
At first glance, it may look like Google is trying to keep up with Apple and its pro-consumer data collection and privacy policies, and that could very well be the case. But matching Apple will always be an uphill struggle when Google insists on relying on bots instead of using invaluable human input to enforce the necessary changes to its services. As we know, Google can be stubborn.
While there is documented evidence of Google leaving its consumer base high and dry with regard to service updates, it’s never impossible to be wrong. So perhaps we’re being too pessimistic. Everything that the company promised users in the recent update cycle to its policies all feels like a hearty step in the right direction and could very well be an attempt at redemption. Nobody would be happier about that than us, so while we remain skeptical that all changes will result in positive outcomes, let’s hope that we continue to see more and more policies that look out for the little guy in 2023. Call it a New Year’s resolution.