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Well, it’s about time: Google has announced significant changes to its Google Play developer program policies, in a possible bid to combat against existing spammy and low quality apps in Google Play Store.

The company said that all newly published apps must adhere to these new policies while existing apps must be compliant with these guidelines in the next 30 days, failing which it may be removed from the Play Store. What’s worth noting here is that Google has mentioned these content policies will now apply to all the publicly displayed content on Google Play, which includes developer names and their website. We feel this will curb the impersonation problem faced by a few developers on the Play store.

Highlights of the new Google Play developer policies

– Proper Indicators To Dismiss Interstitial Ads: Developers should provide a prominent and accessible indicator in interstitial ads to dismiss it without an inadvertent click-through. We believe this could significantly impact revenues of some mobile ad networks, whose major revenue source is interstitial ads. People would earlier click on the interstitial ad instead of dismissing it, since several apps didn’t provide a clear way to close the ad.

No System Notification Ads: “Apps and their ads must not display advertisements through system level notifications on the user’s device, unless the notifications derive from an integral feature provided by the installed app. (e.g., an airline app that notifies users of special deals, or a game that notifies users of in-game promotions)”.

This essentially means that apps can no longer show ads in the notification bar, unless the notifications appear from an integral feature provided by the app. Some indications on what type of notifications will be allowed include an airline app pushing special deals to users or games which pushes notifications about in-game promotions.

Notification ads is a common feature among all low quality and spammy Android apps, since Google depends on its Android user community to flag malicious and copy cat apps, rather than moderating apps on its own like Apple does. These spammy apps therefore depended on instant publicity (and ad revenues) by publishing rip offs of popular apps or apps which violated intellectual properties and pushing ads through the notification bar which cannot be disabled. We have previously heard of several instances where the apps have clocked amount of downloads and ad revenues before Google removed them from the Play store.

However, what needs to be seen is if Google actually enforces this policy actively on developers. We feel enforcing this can go a long way in removing spammy apps from the Play store, since its hitting them where it hurts – monetization. With no instant revenue, there might not be enough incentives for developers to publish such apps.

We are also a bit curious on how this policy will affect mobile ad networks like Airpush, which allows developers to serve ads in the notifications bar.

Apps must use Google’s payment system for In-app purchases: Developers offering virtual goods or currencies within games as in-app purchases must use Google Play’s in-app billing service, which essentially means that they can longer use third party payment systems for in-app purchases within their apps.

No fraudulent installs and no misleading keywords: Manipulating product ratings or reviews, through unauthorized means like fraudulent installs, paid or fake reviews or ratings or providing incentives to rate products are now prohibited. Using irrelevant, misleading, or excessive keywords in their app descriptions, titles, or metadata is also now banned.

Google also noted that apps must not encourage, incentivize, or mislead users to remove or disable third party apps, unless as a security measure to its consumers. We feel this policy will finally lead to a cleaner Play store for users and it will hopefully lead to genuine high quality apps emerge as top apps in the play store. (Also read: App Discovery: Is There A Method To The Madness?)

Extended Gambling Policy: Google has now extended its gambling policy to all skill based games that offer cash prizes or prizes of other value. What’s worth noting here is Google hasn’t defined what “other value” means, so its not clear on what type of prizes are prohibited and which ones are allowed. The company already forbids games which offer online gambling, online casinos and sports betting and lotteries.

No System Settings or home screen changes allowed: Developers cannot place home screen shortcuts, browser bookmarks, or icons on the user’s device, which is not related to their own respective apps, for advertising purposes or as a service to third parties. They also can’t mess around with the phone’s settings or home screen which includes replacing or reordering the default presentation of the apps or widgets. If the app does make any changes, they should intimate users about the change and provide an option to reverse the change or uninstall the app altogether.

Broader Hate Speech Policy: The definition for hate speech policy has been update to make it more broader. Previously, the policy mentioned that Google Play doesn’t allow the promotion of hatred towards people based on various factors like their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity, which has now been modified to Google Play doesn’t allow content advocating against people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.

Corrigendum: Vserv informs us that their interstitial ads have always had a prominent and visible “Skip/Close” buttons, and hence are fully compliant with the policy mentioned above. Our apologies for incorrectly mentioning that their ads did not do this. The post above has been changed to reflect this.