Increasingly, there are news about blocking applications in App Store or Google Play, claims and courts with platforms. We will answer the question – why this happens and what must be taken into account when developing applications.
Sergey Barbashin, attorney at law and TrustMe Law Firm managing partner, lawyers of the company, who specialize in comprehensive support of IT business, will share their experience in this matter.
The main conditions are fixed in the agreement with the Apple developer (hereinafter referred to as the Apple Agreement) and Google Play agreement on the distribution of software products (hereinafter referred to as the Google Agreement). In addition, the developer and its products must obey and comply with the Developer Program Policies and the Apple Developer Policies. These documents free the hands of the platforms.
In their policies, the App Store and Google Play provide guidelines, violation of which may result in a warning, application blocking, and rejection of their publication. For example, if the consequences of violating the Google Play Rules are only a warning, this will not affect the account’s reputation in any way. But if the application is banned several times, Google blocks the entire account.
Blocking does not always happen for obvious reasons, there is even a petition addressed to Google Ink against the ban using the “insensible” bot – “Restore Google Play Developer Account and stop banning by senseless bot.”
In this article, we will describe the main contractual and legal aspects that are the reason for blocking games and applications in stores. We hope that after reading the material, the developers will devote more time to legal issues or delegate these to specialized lawyers.
Ensuring confidentiality and personal data protection
According to Apple, 40% of apps were rejected by the company. The most common reason for refusal in posting is minor errors in the application. Privacy breach is in second place.
The fact that protecting user privacy is paramount in the Apple ecosystem is also mentioned in the Apple agreement. What privacy clauses must be complied with?
Secondly, all user’s personal and confidential data must be processed in a secure manner, including using modern encryption methods, such as the HTTPS protocol. You must determine what data the application collects and how the data will be used.
The application must request and collect the data that is necessary for the work. For example, a geolocation service should not be used unless it is directly related to the features and services that the application provides.
For this reason, in 2019, Google Play blocked Xiaomi Quick Apps application because of “spying” on users.
The program had expanded access to over 55 permissions that allow it to collect almost any data. The app had access to phone calls, IMEI numbers, SIM card numbers, details from operator towers, user accounts, and it could also record audio and video.
Computer security researchers pointed out in the report that Xiaomi is using this data for targeted ads that can appear on the lock screen, news widget, browser and other places.
In addition, in 2019, ToTok application developers were accused of spying. The New York Times, citing sources in the US government, called the ToTok messenger “a spy tool launched by the UAE government”. ToTok has been successfully blocked from the App Store and Google Play.
Removal of applications does not release you from your responsibility to support products
Google agreement does not release from the obligation to support applications or services that were previously purchased or downloaded by users in the event that such applications are removed.
And if the application was removed from Google Play due to a breach of the law, and the user purchased it within a year (or a longer period, if so provided for by local consumer protection law) before the date of removal, at Google’s request, you must refund the user all paid amounts.
This topic can be developed further. Entrepreneurial users can additionally claim compensation for losses, for example, if the application was used in business activities and after the forced removal, business processes (meetings, sales, reminders, database, etc.) were disrupted.
The inadmissibility of “prohibited content” is one of the main points of the rules. It is forbidden to publish applications intended for children, but containing materials for adults. Moreover, applications that contain discriminatory statements, realistic images or detailed descriptions of violent actions, materials of a terrorist nature will be blocked.
As a result, knowing the rules and comparing them with their content is a must have. For example, there is a separate restriction on the sale of marijuana in Google terms. If you can order marijuana or products containing THC using an application, even exclusively in a country where it is sold legally, an application containing such materials will violate the terms.
The restrictions apply to applications for some financial services. It is forbidden to publish applications that provide users with access to deceptive or harmful financial products and services, these can be: binary options, cryptocurrencies, consumer loans, etc.
The above list of limitations is not exhaustive. Each application needs to be analyzed for compliance with the terms. It is imperative to take into account the specific features of each product.
Needless to say that it is prohibited to infringe on intellectual property rights. These can be trademarks, copyrights and related rights, patents, etc. It is prohibited to encourage or facilitate the violation of these rights. This ban applies to apps and accounts in general.
They violate the terms of an application whose names and logos are similar to the names and brands of other products or services to the extent of similarity:
Use of Apple and Google trademarks for advertising purposes
Developers are required to comply with the Trademark and Copyright Guidelines. You cannot use Apple TM and other intellectual property of the company without the Apple’s express written consent, which is required in each case. Exceptions are provided by the Apple Guidelines.
You can use one of Apple’s web icons if the app is in use or was created using Apple hardware or software. Alternatively, such use must be in accordance with Apple’s Web Icon Guidelines.
Google has similar Brand Terms of Service Android, Google Play. Apps that violate the Android branding terms may also be blocked by Google.
Example of proper brand use
– when Android brand is first mentioned, it must have a superscript trademark symbol next to it: ™.
– Use of Android name in content must be accompanied by the following reference: Android is a trademark of Google Inc.
– the word Android must always be capitalized and must not be used in the plural or possessive case.
Developers distributing Android apps may use this particular Google Play logo in marketing materials (the logo is re-branded from time to time).
Fees and payments terms
Developers get 70% of in-app purchases from paid app downloads and in-app subscriptions. Accordingly, 30% of the commission goes to Apple and Google.
The fee amount is not without exception. For example, if a developer wants to sell a subscription within an app, there is a special Apple system. In this case, during the first year of the subscription, the developer receives the same 70% of the subscription sales, and 30% of the fee is paid to Apple. A year later and in all subsequent years, while the user remains a subscriber, the developer receives 85%, and Apple receives 15% of the fee. Some developers consider this fee to be unfair.
In the summer 2020, an interesting litigation began between Epic Games and Apple, Google over fee payments. Epic Games developer considered the fees for payments and in-game purchases in the Apple App Store and Google Play to be high, and implemented its own payment system in the popular Fortnite shooter. Thus, the developer bypassed the 30% fee such purchases. In response, Apple and Google have removed Fortnite from their official stores. Epic Games accuses Apple and Google of violating antitrust laws, on which basis it filed lawsuits.
The entrepreneurial owners selling Apple smartphones with Fortnite installed.
Apple has filed a counterclaim for compensation (news dated 08.09 from https://www.cnbc.com/).
“Corruption” in applications is also frowned upon
Quite often, a developer requires a “voluntary-compulsory” rating of applications. For this you can get a ban. According to Apple policy, apps should not force users to rate the app, view it, download other apps, or other similar activity to access the functionality, content, or use of the app.
There are other features of the terms (and numerous paragraphs, subparagraphs). For example, in 2019, LibreTorrent application was blocked due to multiple duplicate applications (“clones”). Or, for example, according to Google Policies, you should not change your code in any way other than updating through Google Play.
In conclusion: Apple and Google terms are quite general, which allows being banned for different reasons. Sometimes blocking has no apparent reason, but they are revealed when working on errors and unblocking applications. Complaints from end users may also be the grounds for blocking, non-admission of a publication.
Disclaimer: Google and Apple reserve the right to change contracts, agreements and terms at any time. The material is current as of the date of publication and we recommend carrying out an analysis on a case-by-case basis. The company’s lawyers are not representatives of the parties in the cases mentioned in the article and do not assess the actions of the companies (their representatives). Lawyers can change their position based on current practice, laws, new versions of agreements and terms.
Authors of the material:
Sergey Barbashin, attorney, managing partner at TrustMe Law Firm
Oleg Chip, lawyer, TrustMe Law Firm