Google Play store changes policy targeting abusing subscriptions

Have you ever spotted an app that you need to pay as a subscription? This means you are not just paying once for installing the app, you will have to do recurring payments – a classical subscription service we know from a magazine, newspaper or streaming service subscription.

But obviously there are shady ways for (dishonest) app publishers to get to more money: Instead of using a one-time purchase fee, they could simply change the settings and switch to a subscription instead. Many users might not be aware of this – and it's definitely misleading.

It now seems that Google Play, the official app store for Android, has come across this scheme and has set up a new policy targeting subscriptions.

You, as a developer, must not mislead users about any subscription services or content you offer within your app.

Basically Google is warning developers and publishers here. Further down the text, the policy is more clear what this means for apps sold as subscription:

Subscriptions must provide sustained or recurring value to users throughout the life of the subscription, and may not be used to offer what are effectively one-time benefits to users

This means an app, which was sold as a subscription with recurring renewals/payments, needs to deliver continued new values inside the app to the end user. We know this from classical subscriptions; if you have a newspaper subscription, you get the daily news. Obviously that's a recurring value you're getting for the subscription. But apps which do not change are quite obviously not bringing new value.

The new policy also forbids misleading "one time benefit" offers, such as ads on top of an app that are difficult to see as such:

The "close ad" button is difficult to see (1) and users might think they have no choice but to buy a subscription to continue using the app.

The Google Play support article contains more examples of violations.

The new policy we be effective on January 17th 2022.

Claudio Kuenzler
Claudio has been writing way over 1000 articles on his own blog since 2008 already. He is fascinated by technology, especially Open Source Software. As a Senior Systems Engineer he has seen and solved a lot of problems - and writes about them.

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