Google cracks the whip to curb misleading Android app subscriptions

A common complaint on social media these days is that of people that enrolled to try out a particular service finding out that they have since been transitioned from the trial to full subscription status and their cards being billed.

If that hasn’t happened to you then you can count yourself lucky.

This happens mostly because app developers and the people behind such apps either intentionally choose to mislead or deceive users or just go about their business in the most ambiguous manner. Given that some of them require users to share their card details before proceeding with the trial (which may be free or discounted for certain duration), they may or may not offer an easy way to cancel the same.

A good example of such an application is the Wall Street Journal one. They’ll entice you with their juicy subscription deals like EUR 1 for 3 months or something like that but they offer no exit at all. In fact, in the case of WSJ, one has to call a certain international phone number in order to cancel their subscription (hack: go edit your card details and enter wrong ones to avoid being charged an exorbitant subscription fee). The same can be said of a lot of other apps that dot the Play Store today.

Google knows this and like it did with loan applications last year, it is cracking the whip by outlawing such practices in its latest updates to its developer policies.

The changes in the developer policy, which go into effect immediately for all new applications and kick in for existing apps on June 16th, outline the conduct of app developers with regards to applications that offer subscriptions.

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“You, as a developer, must not mislead users about any subscription services or content you offer within your app. It is critical to communicate clearly in any in-app promotions or splash screens,” the policies state.

“In your app: You must be transparent about your offer. This includes being explicit about your offer terms, the cost of your subscription, the frequency of your billing cycle, and whether a subscription is required to use the app. Users should not have to perform any additional action to review the information.”

Cue I Am They’s No Longer Slaves.

Oh, and those apps that will deduct an annual subscription charge even though what was marketed to you was a juicy monthly subscription fee (hello, hungry VPN app developers)? Google has thought about those too. From mid-June, any existing app that misleads users in such ways will be in violation of the Google Play developer policies and in for a hair-dryer appointment with El-Goog which is the easiest way to get delisted from the platform.

A detailed look at the updated developer policies can be found on the Google Play Developer Policy Centre page.

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at]