Google just terminated our start-up Google Play Publisher Account on Christmas day

By Pablo A. Martínez

Photo by Freebie Photography — Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
  • December 24th. Received Google Play account termination email. It mentions it is due to prior violations of “associated accounts” outlined in previous emails.
  • Never received any communication prior the termination regarding any infringement not solved or previous emails regarding to an “associated account”.
  • December 24th. I appealed for human assistance by suggested text form because Google Play lacks of a proper Developer Customer service by phone or assigned account manager.
  • December 25th. I received 24 hours exactly after the termination communication an email telling me that my appeal has been rejected. (Most probably rejected by a bot)
  • Result: A ten years long Android career and a successful start-up killed for Christmas.

I have been developing Android apps for nearly 10 years and I have personally lived the evolution of the whole Android ecosystem, since Android 1.5 to Android 9.0, from “Android Market” to “Google Play”.

I started developing apps as a hobby, later on I joined a major company as developer and finally 4 years ago I decided to follow my own path and co-founded a start-up with a colleague. Android has given me all, a career path, economic independence and best of all, the privilege of making a living doing what I would do just for fun.

While it is undeniable that Google Play has flourished to become the greatest App, Games and Media distribution platform of all times and has devoted all the effort to provide the best experience to more than 2 billion users, it has failed in one simple and plain key point:

Developer customer support

Two other key services provided by Google for Android developers are Admob and Google Ads. If I have a problem with Google Ads, I can just make a phone call and have direct customer support. If I encounter any problem with Admob I can even meet in person with my local Admob Account manager, which is great.

But If I have a problem as a developer at Google Play I can just get a text form and template answers.

We count with all kind of tools in our developer console to publish, monetize, track, monitor, get user feedback, etc… but we cannot just simply get a proper “human” support when an issue arises.

And I can tell you that issues arise more often that we could expect, if you are lucky it’s just an app suspension that can be fixed with an app update but others is an app removal and you must to republish your app. It can be even worse, one day you can receive an email that notifies you about your “Google Play Publisher account termination”.

My “personal publisher account”, was terminated last August 1th. I probably will never know why. It was mostly abandoned, I had just a few old apps just for testing features or make experiments. It was not really important for me nor my start-up but I felt very worried and thought that this had to be a mistake done by an automated process or bot, a false positive… so I looked at this line with confidence, this mistake was going to be fixed for sure:

If you feel this termination may have been in error, please reach out to our policy support team

“Reaching the support team” consists in filling a text field with a 1000 chars limit which is referred as an “Appeal for reinstatement”.

A couple of days later I got an email that confirmed the account termination with this answer:

I couldn’t understand anything, “Multiple violations… by an associated Google Play developer account” ? So I answered back requesting more info.

But the effort was futile, I later discovered searching at Google that this has happened to many other developers and I was just getting the same canned responses.

I tried to get help from other channels like @GooglePlayDev but they just directed me to the same “appeal text form”.

The first email was clear at one point, I can’t publish anymore Android apps in Google Play by myself.

Do not attempt to register a new developer account. Any new accounts will be closed and your developer registration fee will not be refunded. We recommend that you use an alternative method for distributing your apps in the future.

I felt terribly sad, disappointed and angry at the same time. How can Google let this happen? How can such a critical action be taken without any prior communication? Who are “Taylor” and “Sam”, the signers of the replies I got?. Are they actual humans? are they bots? Are they accountable for their decisions? Do they minimally understand what involves developing and publishing an app? Who watches them?

Despite this I thought that I had been in the past smart enough (3 years before all this happened) to open an independent Gmail account to isolate all my start-up services, accounting, work and apps from my personal stuff. And that the team would be able to continue developing apps and publishing them on the start-up Google Play account with ease.

I thought I was right until last December 24th I wake up with the long dreaded email awaiting in our start-up Gmail’s inbox. 5 months later we were receiving at GreenLionSoft the same “Account Termination” email template.

Notified the 24th at 5:15 (CET)

Of course, I appealed and in exactly 24h I got the expected account termination reply, what a Christmas present…

Google Play’s Christmas present for December 25th, just exactly 24h later.
This completely ruined my Christmas holidays with my family.

This time the account termination has overwhelming implications. We at GreenLionSoft had 18 published apps, with more than 1 Million downloads and 300k monthly active users. We were a successful company employing 5 people (2 direct employees and up to 3 freelancers) and expected to continue growing in 2019 and increasing further our portfolio of apps.

This means:

  • We have lost everything we have been able to build in the past 4 years, downloads, reputation, store position, etc…
  • Our users won’t be able to get future updates and they won’t know what has happened.
  • Our only source of income that are ads and in-app purchases will eventually run down.
  • We will have probably to close our start-up in the next few weeks/months so my colleague and me will lose our current jobs and the freelancers will miss the workload they were expecting to have.

This is is happening because we, the publishers (developers), are just a drop of water in the ocean compared with the amount of Google Play customers. The actual business for Google Play are them, not us.

To ensure quality, safety of apps, and the user experience for their billions of customers, Google Play is probably scanning apps looking for malicious behaviour, sdk’s or broken policies in an automated fashion. And this is not bad.

They probably have a team of “watchmen” reviewing apps and the automatic reports generated by their internal tools. And again this is not bad.

What is bad is how it is being handled, what is terribly bad is using automatic responses and templates for customer support. Who is deciding that an account has to be terminated? Under which circumstances? Is it actually somebody terminating accounts on Christmas eve? and answering appeals on Christmas? Do they never commit mistakes? Who watches the “watchmen” are doing their work properly?

Dear Android devs, always remember that Google Play may terminate your dev account at any time, without prior notice, without any explanation and you may have to close your company and seek for a new job tomorrow. This is how it works right now.

I believe that we as developers deserve transparency and a proper communication channel to solve this kind of issues, just terminating years of work without any ‘human’ interaction nor explanation makes us feel totally defenseless.

It’s also our responsibility as community to give visibility to this problem, otherwise the problem virtually doesn’t exist for the people that have the power to fix it.

If you happen to be a Google employee, please escalate this issue, share it among your internal channels, do whatever is in your hands to improve the Google Play platforms for us, the developers.

Dear Purnima Kochicar, please let me have the nerve to say that something is broken at Google Play from the developer perspective and nobody seems to be able to help us.

It is your call to take an action on this, to fix processes and customer support, to avoid Google Play ruining developer careers or companies, to stop people losing jobs in the worst of situations. Is in your hands to recover the developer community trust on Google Play, we are willing to help and collaborate.

Best regards.

December 29th, 2018, Madrid, Spain.
Pablo A. Martínez: CEO and Android Lead at GreenLionSoft

Also subscribing this open letter:

  • Débora Gómez: Technical Lead at myToys
  • Álvaro Abella: Architect at /Bluetab
  • Arturo Naredo: CTO at Glownet
  • Jesús Díaz: Android Lead at Glownet
  • Raúl Martínez: CTO at EthicHub
  • José Orozco: Android Dev at eDreams
  • Sergio Casero: Android Lead at Worldline SL
  • Cristina S. Barreiro: Mobile Developer
  • Jaime GC: Android Developer at Icinetic

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