My Incident With the Google Play Developer Program

Back in February, I decided to purchase the rights to an Android app, from the website Apptopia. Apptopia is an app broker to ensure that as a buyer or seller you don’t get screwed. I found an interesting app, a screen lock app that is a lock pick routine reminiscent of Skyrim, that was perfect for what I was looking for. The price was in my price range, so I put in a bid, and the next day was able to make the purchase.

I hadn’t done too much with the app the first month. I set the developer account up with my shanebrady.com domain and email, separate from the main Google id that I use. I fixed a few bugs, studied the code to see how I could make the animations better. The admob ads were running on someone else’s id so I fixed that as well. The whole thing was starting to feel like a good idea. I was learning the app store, I was learning some basic Android development, and I was enjoying it all.

Then came an email a month later:

This is a notification that your Google Play Publisher account has been terminated.

REASON FOR TERMINATION: Prior violations of the Content Policy and Developer Distribution Agreement by this or associated accounts as outlined in previous emails sent to the registered email address(es) of the Publisher account(s).

Ugh. At this point I assumed that I had bought an app that had previously violated content standards, that I had a bought a bum app. I replied to Google (an appeal) that I had only just personally purchased the app, that I had not received any previous emails, and that I was willing to fix any violation, I just needed to know what was wrong. I figured a human would read my reply and give me some guidance. I was wrong. A few hours earlier I received an email saying my appeal was denied, and my account was still terminated. They also warned me to never try to have a developer account again.

This was like a punch in the stomach. There are few people who are bigger boosters of Android than I am. I’m now also working at a startup that will soon begin working on an Android version. If they connect my suspended account to my day job’s account, what would have happened? This was a really, really bad situation.

I contacted the guy I bought the app from to see if he’d ignored previous warnings or screwed me over in other ways. This is how I found out the source of all the problems. First, the seller’s account was also terminated. His entire day job was based on app writing so this was bad for him. Secondly, we were suspended through a weird chain of associations. The seller had sold another app to another guy. That subsequent buyer bought an app that had actual violations of copyright. That buyer was then connected to me and the seller as one unit, and we were all suspended. Ugh. Terrible.

I tried contacting people in unconventional ways. I posted to people in the Google Developer Relations group’s Google+ accounts. I posted in the Google Developer community. I looked around for phone numbers, some other way to contact Google to please my case. I even tried the appeals process again. Nothing doing.

Then one day, I found something. When I went to the Google Developer appeal page, this time I “lied” and said my account wasn’t yet terminated. I said it was suspended in error. This gave me a chance again to submit a much fuller explanation. For some reason, this actually went to a human. If I said I was already terminated, I bet it went nowhere.

So I gave my full explanation, explaining the chain of associations, where I purchased the app, copies of the email receipt from Apptopia. Everything I could think of. And this time it worked! I received an email the next morning stating that my account was reinstated! My apps, my stats, everything was still there. This was about ten days later. I waited a bit to tell the seller my success, because I didn’t want to jinx it. It turns out that soon after I was reinstated, so was the seller. I don’t care about the other guy so I never found out, but the seller and I were ready to go!

This puts a blackmark on Google. They need to do a much better job than this. In fact, I have been unable to find through searching anyone else who has ever had their account reinstated after a termination. I know I’m not the only one who has ever been terminated incorrectly. The most frustrating part of all this was that there is no communication conduit you can easily use when you’re in the middle of a dispute. There is no phone number you can call to walk someone through the issues. I’m also disappointed that none of the people who work in Google Play Developer Relations responded to any of my messages. I’m a developer and that is what they’re paid to do.

In any case, this does not turn me against developing for Google. This was a somewhat unique situation because I bought an app. I think Android is still the best platform out there to really create something innovative. I just want Google to do better. This was about more than just my app, it could have touched on my day job, and the other people who work with me. This cannot be how it goes. I hope by chance someone from Google reads this and makes some improvement. Let’s truly make this the best platform out there.

2 thoughts on “My Incident With the Google Play Developer Program

  1. I do know someone, that has a relative that works fairly high up at Google (though not in the area were trying to get help with). As I was reading I kept thinking I would see if I could get you any help. It is amazing how many people really depend on the good graces of a company for things like making a living (important stuff), so a human to make a decision based on fairness is very important. Good luck!

  2. jp says:

    Hi Shane,

    I actually just encountered the same situation. I am trying to get it resolved but it’s not looking good. Is it possible for you to email me your Google contact?

    Thanks!

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