Writing this post bums me out.
About 3 weeks ago, I woke up to an e-mail from a Vibe Vault user letting me know that he was unable to find the app on the Google Play store. I checked the store on my way to work, and couldn’t find the app either. When I got to my desk, I logged in to the Google Play Developer console to see what was up and saw that my app was listed as “Suspended.” To give the reader some background, Vibe Vault1 is an app for playing, downloading, sharing, and searching for music in archive.org’s Live Music Archive. Vibe Vault is free, open source, and doesn’t have any ads.
An (automated) e-mail from the Google Play store indicated that Vibe Vault had been “suspended” for, according to Google, “Violation of the spam provisions of the Content Policy.” I have pasted the e-mail below:
This is a notification that your application, Vibe Vault, with package ID com.code.android.vibevault, has been removed from the Google Play Store.
- Do not use irrelevant, misleading, or excessive keywords in apps descriptions, titles, or metadata.
All violations are tracked. Serious or repeated violations of any nature will result in the termination of your developer account, and investigation and possible termination of related Google accounts. If your account is terminated, payments will cease and Google may recover the proceeds of any past sales and the cost of any associated fees (such as chargebacks and payment transaction fees) from you.
If your developer account is still in good standing, you may revise and upload a policy compliant version of your application as a new package name. Before uploading any new applications, please review the Developer Distribution Agreement and Content Policy.
If you feel we have made this determination in error, you can visit the GooglePlay Help Center article for additional information regarding this removal.
The Google Play Team
Unfortunately, when Google “suspends” your app, you lose all access to it; you can’t even check2 at to see what you (allegedly) did wrong! Instead, you see this:
Although I was unable to examine Vibe Vault’s Google Play Store page, having written the material on the page, I can recall its contents. The page provided (1) information about Vibe Vault’s functionality (i.e., search/stream/download/browse); and (2) a sample of Vibe Vault’s most popular content (i.e., live music from archive.org’s Live Music Archive, featuring bands like the Grateful Dead, Lotus, Furthur, the Disco Biscuits…). I can only guess that Google took issue with our sample list of popular artists.
If that’s the case, Google is/was incorrect: Vibe Vault’s use of “keywords” was not in violation of the Google Play Store Content Policy. I’m an attorney, and I review contracts/policies/agreements/legalese every single day (yes, weekends too). I am and was confident in my conclusion that Vibe Vault in no way violated Google’s Content Policy, certainly not the spam provisions relating to keywords. Per Google’s “Content Policy,” Vibe Vault’s store listing did not “use irrelevant, misleading, or excessive keywords in apps descriptions, titles, or metadata.” Let’s take it piece by piece:
- Irrelevant: The keywords were relevant. They listed the artists that you could listen to on our app. Listening to music is the purpose of the app; providing information about that music is relevant to this purpose.
- Misleading: The keywords were not misleading. You could listen to every artist that we listed using Vibe Vault.
- Excessive: The keywords were not excessive. Google caps how much you can write about your app on the Play Store. Vibe Vault’s Google Play page fit within those caps. We listed
1 or 2 dozendozens3 of the most popular artists available through Vibe Vault so that users searching for their music could easily find the app on the Google Play store.
The “keyword spam policy help article” that Google referred us to in its rejection e-mail supports this conclusion. It’s lengthy, so you can read it for yourself.
First, you get 1,000 characters to make your case. Wikipedia calculates article length estimates using an average word length of 5 letters (add in a space character for 6). Discounting any punctuation, this means that you get about 167 words to make your case. 167 words to explain why your app which has been downloaded by about 50,000 different users and has a 4.5 star rating isn’t spam. 167 words sounds even more ridiculous for developers who make a living through publishing apps.
Second, in Google’s words: “You will receive a response to the email address provided either accepting or denying your appeal. All appeal decisions are final, but you may upload a new, policy-compliant instance of your app if your account is still in good standing.” Basically, you get a computer-generated e-mail response saying “yes” or “no.” Mine came a few hours after I submitted the “appeal” (more on that later).
Third, Google won’t allow you to fix any perceived violation. Again, in Google’s words: “Note that we will not provide guidance on the potential compliance of your future implementation, so submissions requesting advice will not receive an answer.”
Fourth, you don’t get any substantive response to your “appeal.” Below is what Google e-mailed me in response to my appeal.
Thank you for your note.
We have reviewed your appeal and will not be reinstating your app. This decision is final and we will not be responding to any additional emails regarding this removal.
If your account is still in good standing and the nature of your app allows for republishing you may consider releasing a new, policy compliant version of your app to Google Play under a new package name. We are unable to comment further on the specific policy basis for this removal or provide guidance on bringing future versions of your app into policy compliance. Instead, please reference the REASON FOR REMOVAL in the initial notification email from Google Play.
Please note that additional violations may result in a suspension of your Google Play Developer account.
The Google Play Team
Based on the content of the e-mail, the (totally erroneous) reason for “suspending” Vibe Vault from the Google Play Store, and the very fast turnaround time on this “appeal,” I can guarantee you that no one ever really gave any consideration to our arguments. Maybe if Vibe Vault wasn’t free or contained a bunch of advertisements (so that Google was making money off of it) things would have been different.
In the end, we re-posted our app to the store using a different package name. We lost all of our statistics (e.g., the hundreds of 5-star ratings and the nearly 50,000 downloads). Our users who don’t know what happened will no longer get updates to Vibe Vault unless they take a look manually on the Play Store (and subsequently uninstall the old Vibe Vault and reinstall the new one). We don’t even have a way of e-mailing our users to let them know.
Anyway, if you’re an Android developer (or user), consider this a warning. Google deletes apps from the Google Play Store, without good reason, and without a chance for any real appeal. Unless you collect user information (we don’t), you won’t even be able to tell your users that you (and they) have been screwed over. I suppose now that Android is a lot more popular than it was when we started developing Vibe Vault, it is no longer a priority for Google to treat the Android community with a modicum of care or respect.
- Vibe Vault is a free (really free — no ads either), open source program that I develop with my good friend Sanders. We started it back in our senior year of college when I got my first smartphone (Android, obviously). Since then, we’ve released dozens of updates, adding new features and keeping Vibe Vault up-to-date with Android’s newest functionality and design schemes. Developing Vibe Vault has been an extremely rewarding hobby: we both love music and coding, and it feels great to share our creation with (tens of thousands of) people who enjoy what we’ve made. Not to tout our collective horn, but Vibe Vault was around for over 3 years and had a rating of about 4.5/5 stars. The overwhelming majority of our ratings were for 5 stars. That’s pretty good. ↩
- For example, in our case, we were unable to visit our Google Play Store page to examine the language that Google said violated its Content Policy. ↩
- Since I can’t view my old store listing, I can’t confirm how many artists were listed. That said, Google caps the length of characters that a developer can use for the description, and the list fit within that limit. If Google thought that the list of artists accessible through our app was too long, they shouldn’t have provided the space, or they should have told us to trim it. ↩