Google Play declared our educational coding App is Malware and accused us of Ad Fraud!
This is a warning to all developers, organisations and small businesses that rely on Google’s Advertising platform and Play Store for their revenue -
Be prepared to loose everything you have worked for at any moment!
Our not-for-profit organisation has worked for 7 years on our educational coding App called DroidScript and built up a good rating, ranking and user base of over 100,000 developers, including many students, teachers and professionals. But on 7th April 2021 our App was removed from Google Play and we were given no opportunity to resolve any issues and no meaningful information about why our App was removed.
All of our subsequent attempts to communicate with a human being at Google to find out why our App had been removed and what could be done about fixing it were just answered by automated or ‘canned’ responses.
We have been snuffed out by an unthinking and uncaring machine and this could happen to you too!
We rely on our AdMob (advertising) and Premium subscription income to keep the lights on and our servers running. This sudden removal of our App, with the loss of over seven years worth Play Store ratings and over 500 Premium subscriptions is a devastating blow to our community. Having to start again from scratch may well be the final nail in the coffin for us, as we were already struggling to make ends meet.
Previous to our App being removed, our AdMob account had also been terminated due to a supposed ‘Ad Fraud’ policy violation. To be accused of something like this when you have done nothing consciously wrong is very upsetting and demoralising.
This accusation came totally out of the blue for us and we had no idea why Google’s system suddenly decided that it didn’t like our App after more than 12 months of Ad serving with no issues. We only have a single Ad banner on our main app screen which we reluctantly added to cover our development and hosting costs.
Google (or their bots) won’t tell us exactly why they cancelled our AdMob account. They only give us the vague reason of ‘invalid traffic’ which can be for any number of reasons. Google has this policy of not explaining in any detail the reasons for AdMob accounts being cancelled, which is incredibly frustrating because you then have very little chance of fixing the problem.
Our appeal against the AdMob account termination was rejected exactly 11 minutes after we submitted it (presumably by a bot).
Then came the worst part — about a week after our AdMob account was terminated our App was also permanently suspended from Google Play due to the supposed ‘Ad Fraud’ reasons and now they were accusing our App of being ‘Malware’ too!
Of course we tried to appeal against this suspension and find out why our educational App has been classified as Malware so we might have a chance of fixing it, but we got no meaningful response from Google Play support and no explanation of exactly why we were suddenly ‘Malware’ after 7 years happily in the Play Store — we just kept getting automated or canned responses from Google Play support and their bots.
To date we have had no meaningful contact with a human being at Google regarding our case and we are now resigned to living outside the Play Store ecosystem. We once used to get nearly 1000 downloads a day of our App due to our good rating and ranking on Google Play, now we probably get less than 1% of that download rate with a web-only presence. Consequently our App and community will eventually fade into obscurity.
You can see a timeline with the full conversation that we had with Google Play support (bots) at this link:
This could be you!
Again, I want to re-iterate my warning — Don’t rely on Google Play or AdMob/AdSense for all of your income. You cannot safely build any business or organisation solely funded by these platforms!
Some time ago Google’s abandoned its motto, “Don’t be evil” and we can see why they got rid of it. Now they seem to have their machines regularly doing evil on their behalf while Google’s management turns a blind eye.
We believe leaving the final word on alleged policy violations to a machine that can’t grasp the human consequences of its actions is immoral.
Here’s another example of extremely harsh treatment of a small business by Google Play’s bots -
Let’s change things!
We believe it is time that these all powerful mega-corporations were held to account by independent authorities. It has become almost impossible to comfortably live a modern life without relying on Google, Amazon or Apple and consequently they should be treated like essential utilities and regulated in the the same way that Electricity or Water suppliers are regulated in most civilised countries.
Companies like Google have become ever more powerful and pervasive and now have way too much power over our everyday lives and livelihoods — something needs to be done about it!
We are back!
After 25 days in the wilderness, we have finally got through to a human at Google (even if all they did was generate a canned response).
I’m pretty sure we were re-instated due to all the pressure on social media and because of the support we got from major tech news sites such as theregister.com and xda-developers.com.
We have been given 7 days to modify the App and come into compliance with Google Play policies. We should have been given this opportunity in the first place!
However it is still not totally clear what caused our App to be removed and there is no mention of the ‘Malware’ accusation in our reinstatement email from Google support. It seems from their email that they are citing ‘Unintentional Clicks’ on the Ad banner as the cause of the problem. We have never had any reports from our users regarding problems with the Ad banner (it’s been running with no issues for over a year) and it’s certainly not our intention to provoke unintentional clicks in our App.
We have already done the work to strip AdMob out of DroidScript and I don’t intend to put it back after this very unnerving experience. We can’t risk something like this happening again! We lost a whole months worth of revenue due to this debacle and we nearly lost our App altogether!
I’m still very nervous (and slightly suspicious) about the ‘Malware’ accusation and confused as to why there is no mention of this anymore. I will try to communicate with Google Play support about this point and find out exactly why they said that.
Google admits mistake
About 4 days after I enquired as to why our App was classified as ‘Malware’ I got a response from Google saying:
“We’d like to make a correction in our communication to you. We previously communicated your app is in violation of our Malware policy. However, to be specific, your app is only in violation of our Ad Fraud policy”
This was a relief, but shed little light on the issue as no further explanation was given and most annoyingly - there was no apology!
About 20 days after that, I got a message from a member of the Android Developer Relations Team asking if we could chat about the Ad Fraud issue. So I arranged a video call hoping that I might learn more and maybe even get an apology.
The guy I talked to explained that he could not give me many technical details due to Google’s policies however he seemed to be strongly hinting that a particular library was the cause of the detected Ad Fraud policy violation and asked where we got it from. He also suggested that we remove it to get rid of the ‘Ad Fraud’ detection problem. However that library was written by us and is just a thin wrapper around an official Google Admob library. It has nothing malicious or dodgy in it, just some unusual coding techniques which I tried to explain to him. I offered to send him the source code too, but he seemed to be uninterested in that.
At the beginning of the conversation I made a point of telling him that we had lost over a months subscription revenue and lost most of our premium subscribers as well as all our Admob revenue and it would take us many months to recover. He seemed unconcerned however and gave no hint of an apology. So much for developer relations!
My overall feeling is that Google Does Not Care :(
Here are some of the articles that we believe helped our cause:
Google still struggles with transparency over Play Store app removals
Google is at it again, with the developers behind DroidScript alleging that their app was removed without any remedial…
Google bans DroidScript app over ad fraud allegation without reasoning
Google’s AI algorithm does most of the weeding out of suspicious apps from Play Store. In a fresh instance, it has…