For a company that has played a key role in fashioning today’s Web—in all its fun, creative and also sometimes depraved glory—Google seems to be oddly horrified lately by the proposition of negative behavior.
The company just updated its developer program policies Wednesday to include, among other things, a specific provision governing sensitivity to tragic events.
How does one govern sensitivity? Here’s Google’s take: “We don’t allow content which may be deemed as capitalizing on or lacking reasonable sensitivity towards a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or other tragic event,” the policy now reads.
The company also took the opportunity to frown on deceptive behavior with a few bullet points restricting things like mimicking other software, or including features and art that deliberately trick users. The text stops short of telling developers to play nice and say “please” and “thank you.”
Consider it Google’s official “anti-jerk” policy for developers.
Supporting decency in general is an admirable goal. But relying on technology companies as some sort of arbiters of decency can be a slippery slope.
Take this part from the “Impersonation or Deceptive Behavior” section, for instance: “Products or the ads they contain must not mimic functionality or warnings from the operating system or other apps.” The statement essentially prohibits developers from ripping off Android functions or other apps. But the way it’s worded, the policy would also prohibit apps containing parodies from poking fun at other software.
Then there’s the other matter of what qualifies as “mimicking” other apps. If a developer has a new streaming app, technically, the company could use the policy as a weapon to ban it from Google Play, citing the fact that Netflix also streams, not to mention YouTube and Google Play itself.
Not that Google’s policies are the only developer guidelines with unusual directives. Apple, for instance, singles out apps that contain Russian Roulette, banning them from its App Store.
It seems Google has been busy pondering morality in a variety of ways lately. The company—along with Amazon, eBay and Etsy—took a cue from brick-and-mortar retailers recently and pulled Confederate flag merchandise from its Web marketplace, in response to last week’s deadly mass shooting at a South Carolina church.
Other Nuts-And-Bolts Issues
These range from clarifying details concerning payments—primarily about the use of Google Play In-app Billing whenever possible—and a new section barring “content that harms, interferes with the operation of, or accesses in an unauthorized manner, networks, servers, application programming interfaces (APIs), or other infrastructure.”
In other words, don’t try to submit apps to the store that mess with Google’s plumbing, including its software.
Failure to comply with these policies, and Google will be forced to stop playing nice. Consider yourself warned.
Lead photo by Anita Hart