Google tightens Play Store policies around weed, sex, hate, and loot

Google is taking a tougher stance on apps featuring things such as marijuana, sex, loot boxes, and hate speech with new Play Store policies.

Part of Google’s reasoning behind the changes is to protect young minds from being influenced by apps and games they stumble across.

Developers now have to define target age groups for their apps in the Play Console. When minors are included, new ‘Designed for Families’ policies must be applied.

Google provides some examples of common violations:

  • Apps that promote play for children in their store-listing but the app content is only appropriate for adults.

  • Apps that implement APIs that have terms of service that prohibit their use in child-directed apps.

  • Apps that glamorize the use of alcohol, tobacco or controlled substances.

  • Apps that include real or simulated gambling.

  • Apps that include violence, gore, or shocking content not appropriate for children.

  • Apps that provide dating services or offer sexual or marital advice.

  • Apps that show mature ads to children.

In-app adverts must be targeted for the audience and come from a Google Play certified ad network. If the app features AR, users must be cautioned to seek adult supervision.

Loot boxes will also have more restrictions placed on them. Developers that provide random in-game items must now "clearly disclose the odds of receiving those items in advance of purchase."

Other areas where Google is clamping down – not just for minors – include marijuana, sexual content, and hate speech.

Tightening restrictions on marijuana apps is going to be the most controversial. Bans of apps facilitating the sale of weed for recreational use is understandable, but preventing access for legitimate medicinal purposes is a grey area.

Here are examples of common marijuana-based violations:

  • Allowing users to order marijuana through an in-app shopping cart feature.

  • Assisting users in arranging delivery or pick up of marijuana.

  • Facilitating the sale of products containing THC.

Google is expanding what it prohibits in terms of sexually explicit content on the Play Store. In the past it blocked things such as examples of "sex acts," "sexually suggestive poses," and "promotional images of sex toys", but now it covers:

  • Depictions of nudity in which the subject is nude or minimally clothed, and where the clothing would not be acceptable in an appropriate public context.

  • Depictions, animations or illustrations of sex acts or sexually suggestive poses.

  • Content that depicts sexual aids and fetishes.

  • Content that is lewd or profane.

Hate speech remains one of society’s greatest problems and several governments around the world are pressuring developers to take more responsibility in tackling it. Google is stepping in with its own measures.

Google’s examples of hate speech violations:

  • Compilations of assertions intended to prove that a protected group is inhuman, inferior, or worthy of being hated.

  • Apps that contain theories about a protected group possessing negative characteristics (e.g. malicious, corrupt, evil, etc.), or explicitly or implicitly claims the group is a threat.

  • Content or speech trying to encourage others to believe that people should be hated or discriminated against because they are a member of a protected group.

All of Google’s updated policies should help to tackle some of the issues which have plagued app stores for years. Hopefully, Google laying down the law will prevent some developers from meeting those who uphold it with handcuffs.

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