Update: Note Rush Reinstated on Google Play!

Sun 24 June, 2018

As of a couple of days ago, Note Rush has been reinstated on Android's Google Play Store! 🎉😄

If you've been waiting to install or update you should now be able to do so. If Note Rush was deleted from your device (this appears to have only affected a small number of users, thankfully) you should now be able to reinstall it (you shouldn't have to pay twice).

The issue turned out to be a terms of service technicality. Rest assured, Note Rush wasn't actually doing anything bad to your device or data etc.

Software is commonly made up of a bunch of parts written by other people combined together into the apps you know and love. In this case, one of those parts included code for playing YouTube videos. Note Rush wasn't actually using this code, but it was included in the app as part of a larger library of code.

For privacy reasons, YouTube requires that apps that play its videos inform the user that their terms and privacy policies apply. Google Play detected that Note Rush is capable of playing YouTube videos, and also that users weren't being informed about those policies. So they suspended the app. Since Note Rush doesn't actually use YouTube, the fix was as simple as removing that part of the library. The only reason it took two weeks to resolve was due to Google's reluctance to tell me what the problem was.

I'm pleased to have reached a favourable resolution, and thanks again to everyone for your patience. And special thanks to all those who wrote in to offer words of support - it means a lot!

That's the short version! Read on for a more detailed breakdown.

The Technical Details

The first I heard about any of this was an email from Google Play informing me Note Rush had been "suspended and removed from Google Play because it violates our Device and Network Abuse policy..." See my original post below for more on that. Suffice to say, it was a harsh penalty with no warning and very little information about why it had been suspended.

Google Play's strategy for dealing with policy violations appears to be something like the following:

  1. Detect violation; Remove and suspend the app without warning. Inform the developer of the category their violation is in, but no further details.
  2. Wait until the developer submits an appeal.
  3. Check if the developer has correctly guessed the specific violation.
  4. If so, re-enable their login so they can submit a compliant update. If not, provide minimal further information and repeat from step 2.

In my case it took a couple of guesses to figure it out. The only further information I was given after an initial "I have no idea what the violation is!" appeal being:

During review, we found that your app violates the Device and Network Abuse policy. We don’t allow apps that interfere with, disrupt, damage, or access in an unauthorized manner the user’s device, other devices or computers, servers, networks, or application programming interfaces (APIs). You can read through the Device and Network Abuse policy page for more details and examples of common violations.

For example, your app accesses or uses the YouTube API Services in a manner that violates its terms of service.

Please note that suspensions count as strikes against the good standing of your Google Play Developer account. Egregious or multiple policy violations can result in suspension, as can repeated app rejections or removals.

In other words, "your app does something bad to the user's device, their local network, the wider internet, some servers somewhere, or an API" - this really doesn't narrow it down a lot! I initially dismissed the "example" of YouTube API Services, as my app didn't access YouTube, so I thought it was literally an example, and not a violation specific to Note Rush. After all, YouTube violations would surely be to do with playing videos in the wrong format, bypassing ads, posting bad comments, overloading servers, or something of that nature.

After looking into a bunch of other possibilities (including some network monitoring just to make sure Note Rush wasn't doing anything over the Internet that it shouldn't) a friend (thanks Humphrey!) noticed that code for YouTube API Services was in fact embedded in Note Rush's APK file, which I hadn't realised previously. This led me to read the YouTube terms, and realise that might be the issue. Replying to the appeal rejection again to ask if this was the case yielded this response:

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for your reply.

Status (com.TGSoftware.NoteRush) : not available on Google Play, pending your action

I’m happy to report that we have conditionally accepted your appeal. I’ve included details below about what additional steps you’ll need to take to get your app back on Google Play.

Step 1: Update your app
...

So I guess that's a yes?

Despite not actually answering my questions, I took this as implied confirmation that the YouTube API code was the culprit. (Though I also improved sleep handling during gameplay for good measure, lest that be considered "device abuse"!) I submitted the update and it went live on Google Play, so I'm assuming the update addressed their concerns.

I understand Google is fighting a war against malicious apps that are deliberately trying to break the rules, and that being vague about policy violations serves as a deterrent for those bad actors. But in this case it was difficult (not to mention time-consuming!) for a one-person developer to determine the problem. A little more transparency in the process would be welcome.

Thomas Grayston
Developer

Note Rush Removed from Google Play Store

Wed June 13, 2018

Google has removed Note Rush from Android's Google Play Store, and now appears to be DELETING Note Rush from users' Android devices. 😫

The first I heard about this was a few days ago (Friday 8th June 2018) when I received the following in an email from Google:

Hello Google Play Developer,

After careful review, Note Rush... has been suspended and removed from Google Play because it violates our Device and Network Abuse policy and section 4.9 of the Developer Distribution Agreement. ...

Additional suspensions of any nature may result in the termination of your developer account, and investigation and possible termination of related Google accounts. If your account is terminated, payments will cease and Google may recover the proceeds of any past sales and/or the cost of any associated fees (such as chargebacks and transaction fees) from you.

The Device and Network Abuse policy is very broad, and doesn't help much in narrowing down where Google has taken issue.

I am shocked at the abrupt and harsh penalty applied and disappointed at the lack of transparency in Google's process for policing Google Play. I am continuing to attempt to engage with Google in resolving this issue.

At this stage I'm unable to offer a timeline or any predictions as to how this will all be resolved.

If you'd like to be kept up to date the best way would be to sign up to the email list on this page. If a way you to help presents itself in the future I'll be asking via that list.

The Apple and Amazon App Stores remain unaffected.

Thanks for your patience while this gets sorted out.

Thomas
Developer


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