Updated A small UK software biz has complained of "eerily Orwellian" treatment from Google after its wares were suddenly suspended and then banned from the Play store, with no meaningful discussion possible.
Pocketwood Ltd had three apps on the store, under the MyAV brand, all of which are controllers for home AV setups. One of the apps is for Sony TVs, one for Samsung, and the other a universal remote. They are subscription applications which, according to managing director Kingsley Smith, amassed "many thousands" of subscribers, having been available for over five years.
The bad news came early on 3 October, in the form of three emails suspending each application. The developer appealed and later that day was told: "After review, we've confirmed our initial decision and we won't be reinstating your app at this time. Repetitive content violates our Spam policy and is prohibited on Google Play."
The issue of "repetitive content" is understandable as the three apps are similar in function, but are tweaked for different brands in order to simplify the setup. "Each app utilises a different discovery mechanism," the developer explained.
Smith attempted to explain this to Google but was rewarded with a bot-like response: "In our previous email, I made sure to include all the information available to me."
A little over an hour later, he was further informed that: "Your Google Play Publisher account has been terminated, please do not attempt to register a new developer account. We will not be restoring your account at this time."
All of this occurred in the course of one day. "We are left in the situation of not being able to sell our app, and with no mechanism to offer ongoing support and updates to our existing customers," said the apps' website. "We are also owed many thousands of pounds from Google for last September's sales.
"We have of course attempted to contact Google, but there is no number to telephone their UK offices to get through to a real person, and emails receive only seemingly automated 'computer says so' responses. We are a small British company up against a monolithic, faceless Goliath."
The developer added: "The email informing us that we had been banned also threatened to block other Google services like Gmail," a situation he says feels "eerily Orwellian".
El Reg must emphasise that we've not heard Google's side of the story so it is possible that the company has valid reasons for its ban. An observation, though, is that attempts to get comment from Google on similar past cases have not been successful, and that developer accounts are on occasion mysteriously reinstated following public discussion, sometimes in these hallowed pages. The questions raised by the developer seem reasonable.
Google's problem is that no end of malicious, badly behaved or spammy and unpleasant applications are constantly submitted to its store. Automated detection of these is unavoidable, and you can understand its reluctance to enter into detailed discussions with every discontented developer.
Equally, in the case of a well-established (though small) developer who has made some money both for themselves and Google over the years, you would think meaningful dialogue would be possible. The impact of a ban on Smith and the two people he employs part-time in Sheffield and Coventry is huge. He is now considering a trip to London to hammer on the door of Google's office.
Sell your apps elsewhere? "Unfortunately, there is currently no other viable way of selling Android apps. Google Play is the default store pre-installed on all devices, and trying to download an app from elsewhere triggers a security warning," Smith said.
Updated at 09:41 UTC on 8 October to add:
After publication of this piece, the Pocketwood account was reinstated. We do not think this is a coincidence, but Google is not confirming its reasons for doing so.
Smith had already appealed Google's decision and that appeal had been rejected with the statement: "We will not be able to reinstate your developer account." Late last night, though, he received a further communication stating that "After further review, we've accepted your appeal and reinstated your account."
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