Google has recently changed its policy for “news” apps on its Play store. The updated policy required developers of these apps to be show users information about the publisher along with its contact information. This will likely help the company validate these apps, and whether the content is being hosted legally. Additionally, in what is perhaps an attempt to stave off some antitrust criticism, it requires the apps to have links to the official website of the publisher of each article. The policy change was announced on November 11.

In an explainer for the policy, Google says that the changes are to “ensure transparency in news publishing on Google Play, and to promote greater accountability for developers that create, aggregate or share news.”

What the new policy says

The policy, updated last week, now requires any app that declares itself as a “News” app on Google Play to meet the following requirements. It applies to dedicated apps of news publishers, as well as news aggregators.

  • Provide ownership information about the news publisher and its contributors. This information includes the official website of the news published in the app; valid contact information such as an email address, phone number, postal address or a link to the publisher’s contact page.
  • News aggregator apps must indicate the original publisher of each article. “News apps that aggregate content from different publishing sources must be transparent about the publishing source of the content in the app and each of the sources must meet News policy requirements.”

“Google will use the information provided on the Store Listing, in the app and on the linked website to authenticate the developer,” the policy explainer says. Essentially, it will help Google verify whether a particular app that shares content from a news organisation is indeed owned by latter.

Google’s issues with the news industry

For many years, and particularly in the past few months, Google has been accused of eating into the revenue of news websites. The tech giant is currently engaged in a standoff with the Australian government, which is trying to help news publishers strike a more equitable deal with Google and Facebook. Publishers have argued that the two companies often show snippets of news content to their users, which makes the act of reading the article redundant. This leads to a direct drop in revenues. Similar accusations have been made in France, Germany and the United States, among others.

The policy change seems to indicate Google’s primary aim is to use this information to validate an app’s credentials. This will presumably help the company prevent fake apps with news content, which also cause a drop in revenue for publishers by using their content without permission. For instance, there are many apps on the Play store that host free content from major news websites that is otherwise behind a paywall. At the same time, Google also seems to be pointing users directly to the publishers websites, thereby helping them get more visitors. It remains to be seen whether this minor policy change will help make its case with antitrust regulators looking into its activities globally.

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