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Disciplining the developer

September 22, 2012


As we head into the latter part of 2012, Android development remains one of the hottest fields around, with sales of Android devices easily exceeding the 100 million mark, and the Android developer community in Pakistan growing at an explosive pace.

The popularity of Android development can be judged by the fact that it has even become a platform for airing one's political views with the amusing launch of “Angry Imran” this year; this is a game inspired by the highly popular Angry Birds, in which players can use a virtual Imran Khan to knock down famous political leaders. The developer-friendly nature of Android means that both fresh graduates and experienced developers are quickly jumping on the bandwagon to develop for smartphones and tablets powered by the popular mobile OS. With over a hundred million Android devices available and thousands of Apps being launched daily, the market for such apps is not going away anytime soon.

Google Pain

Android has both been lauded and criticized for its App model, which allows developers to quickly build and launch new applications, in comparison to Apple’s extremely strict approval process. Yet at the same time this free-for-all has also caused malicious applications to slip through the cracks and infect users’ smartphones, much to their misery. Just recently, Android smartphones got taken over and turned into a spam botnet which would logon to the users’ Yahoo accounts and send spam, unbeknownst to the user. Android users also contribute to the problem as they often try to download pirate version of apps (which are malicious in nature) in order to avoid paying for legitimate apps authorized by the developers.  The long list of malicious applications that has plagued the Google Play app store since its launch has always been a major problem for Google. Although a service was introduced last year by Google to scan the market place for malicious applications, the problem still remains.

Recently, as one of the major steps towards cleaning up Google Play, Google has introduced a new set of rules for developers, which it hopes will create a better environment for developing mobile apps and help in identifying and removing suspicious apps from the marketplace. Developers have a 30-day deadline to comply with this policy, or else their app may end up being removed. So it’s clear that Google is not kidding around.

No more Copy Cats

One of the major issues in Google Play has been that of copycat apps, where apps bearing names/icons similar to popular apps, like Angry Birds or Temple Runner, are downloaded by users unknowingly and end up infecting their devices. To stop this practice, Google has stated that developers should make sure their app is not pretending to be someone else’s, and not bear a name or icon that is identical to someone else’s. All the apps and icons that are currently in the marketplace will be reviewed, and those found in violation will be swiftly removed. This is a welcome step to remove a problem caused by unethical developers who take advantage of gullible users. However it should be interesting to see how Google decides which applications to keep in the case of two very similar sounding apps developed by two developers trying to prove their legitimacy!

Spamming Apps a no-no

Excessive spam can drive even the most patient of users over the edge, so Google has outlined several key policy changes on how Apps should behave:

  • No more Apps sending ads disguised as system notifications. Google finally makes it clear that developers are not to use this tactic, which spoils the user experience with extremely irritating pop-ins. Additionally, users are to be informed when ads are going to make changes, to discourage those apps that like to make unwanted shortcuts, toolbars etc. The developer/company will be held accountable for apps which spam ads in violation of this policy.
  • No more attempting to boost an application’s ratings via repeated ratings, and making users rate an application multiple times.
  • No more misleading product descriptions, which are designed to make the app climb up the relevancy ladder in search results.
  • No more apps whose sole purpose is to advertise or drive traffic to a specific website.
  • No more apps sending SMS, emails or messages without explicitly informing the user of what content is being sent and who the recipient is. This is a welcome change to something that has been abused by malicious apps at users’ cost in the past.
Privacy and security friendly apps

It may seem like a no-brainer, but apps that decrease the security level of the device, or introduce vulnerabilities will no longer be allowed. Included are “malicious scripts”, “phishing apps” or apps that download information from outside Google Play. Developers thinking about launching apps that disclose user data without their explicit permission may end up being banned as another welcome step by Google towards enhancing the privacy aspects of Google Play.

Payment Policies

Apps that accept process payment transactions will be required to use Google’s own payment system. This will apply to payments that are carried out with in-app purchases and not for goods outside the apps. Interestingly enough, developers are also instructed not to mislead users, so if a game requires a purchase for the user to finish it, this would have to be informed right from the start.

Google’s new policies are a welcome step towards making Google Play a mature marketplace and finally reducing the problem of malicious and spam-heavy apps that unethical developers often flood it with. With Google Play now boasting a nearly equal number of apps as Apple’s App Store, this is an excellent time for Google to spell out exactly what is expected from developers if they want their apps to remain in the marketplace. Developers who took advantage of Google’s lax policies in the past should take heed of these changes and start complying, before they find themselves getting booted out of the marketplace!