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Banned from Android Development: How Open is Google Play?

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Banned from Android Development: How Open is Google Play?

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We like to think of Android development as a more open market than the primary competition of Apple's tightly-controlled app store, but how open is it? According to mobile developer Steve Gehrman, the openness can disappear quickly.

After publishing a number of test apps to the Play store - quick things for his kids, rather than serious, monetized attempts - Gehrman had his accounts banned with little explanation from Google. As a new Android developer, Gehrman was unclear on what he had done wrong, and the punishment was extreme. According to Gehrman:

Now my Google play account and Google Wallet account are both banned for life. I’m no longer able to write Android apps ever again, and my family and I can’t even use Google wallet to purchase from Google Play.

However, Google's policies for developers are not secretive or particularly obscure. One might imagine that an app using copyrighted material in the title - Vice TV, for example, from Gerhman's story - might be questionable. Also, Gehrman acknowledges having received warnings before the punishment came down, but they didn't strike him as being serious:

These warnings to me felt like the warnings on a plastic bag telling you not to put it over your head, or a warning saying a product may give you cancer or something similarly far fetched.

Far-fetched, maybe, but still valid warnings. More central to Gehrman's argument, though, is the apparent lack of human oversight. Regardless of any mistakes, Gehrman was unable to have this ban reversed, and based on the circumstances described, it should have been fairly clear that there was nothing nefarious going on. Gerhman sums it up succinctly:

If one of their algorithms thinks you’re a bad guy, you’re banned for life.

Is the Play store an appropriate place for a three-strike policy? Do automated security and overzealous copyright protections limit the freedom that Android, for many, represents? One way or another, Gehrman's story presents an interesting argument on an important issue for mobile developers.

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