Google has recently announced significant changes to the Google Play Developer Policies. Among those changes, Google updated its policy regarding real-money gambling apps, user data and file access permission, as well as provided further clarifications and examples of common violations of other existing policies. Additionally, Google revealed its new Package Visibility policy, which is aimed to restrict access to data concerning installed apps only for purposes that are necessary for the app’s core activities. Below are detailed the key updates.
Real-Money Gambling, Games and Contests
Google updated its policy regarding the distribution of apps that enable or facilitate online gambling, providing a detailed list of the types of gambling products allowed per jurisdiction in its recently expended list of jurisdictions allowed to offer gambling apps. Gambling apps operating in approved jurisdictions can be distributed subject to compliance with all Google Play policies, provided that the developer is operating under appropriate governmental licenses. Developers will be required to complete the Gambling Application Form for the apps to be distributed in the Play store.
Apart from gambling apps, Google will also allow app developers to offer loyalty programs, rewarding users with real world prizes or monetary equivalent subject to eligibility requirements. According to the updated policies, loyalty program benefits must be clearly supplementary and may not be tied to any mode of exchange in violations with the Real-Money Gambling, Games and Contests policy restrictions. For games apps, loyalty points or rewards with a qualifying monetary transaction, may only be awarded on a fixed ratio basis, and the earning of benefits or redemptive value may not be wagered, awarded or exponentiated by game performance or chance-based outcomes. For non-games app, loyalty points or rewards may be tied to a contest or change based outcomes if they fulfil the threshold requirements as detailed in the updated policy. Developers of both game and non-game apps are required to post conspicuous terms and conditions for participation in the loyalty program.
Package Visibility policy
This upcoming policy introduces an approval process for the “QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES” permission (the “Permission“), which grants access to the inventory of installed apps on a device. According to this new policy, the inventory of installed apps queried from a device will be regarded as personal and sensitive user data subject to Google’s Personal and Sensitive Information policy. In order to be granted access to the inventory, apps will be required to meet the policy requirements for acceptable use, including obtaining the user’s consent for access.
Once the policy goes into effect, developers will have 60 days to comply with changes, according to which only apps that fall within the list of permitted uses, which core user facing functionality requires broad visibility into installed apps for awareness and interoperability purposes, will be approved and granted access (e.g. file management, backup, anti-virus etc.). Other financial transaction apps (e.g. banking and digital wallet apps) may be granted a temporary exception for security based purposes.
In addition to the main updates described above, Google also added several threshold requirements for News apps and for apps that target children as part of their target. Furthermore, it provided some additional examples of common violations in the context of sexual content, ads and monetization and misleading claims.
The policy changes by will come into effect 5 May 2021. These changes will require developers to review their existing and new apps distributes on the Google Play store, and to address and remedy various compliance aspects. These changes, together with the previous material policy changes introduced with respect to Google Play Developer Policy (see our related report), demonstrate an increased scrutiny by Google concerning apps and extensions distributed through its platforms.