back to article Zapped from the Play store: Another developer gets no sense from Google, appeals to the public

Canadian developer Mathieu Méa has gone public about his experience with Google's Play team after they abruptly terminated his publisher account at the end of last week. Méa develops public transport apps and said his application, MonTransit, is installed on over 120,000 devices and used by 17,000 people a day. He has been …

  1. Cronus

    The Register has asked Google to comment...

    but we all know that if they get one at all it'll be a generic and unhelpful response from a PR droid.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

      it'll be a generic and unhelpful response from a PR droid

      I suspect any response would probably come from Google Assistant, so the rest of your post will automatically be true...

    2. Mattmattic

      Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

      This is how it works. The Google bots and algorithms run riot taking down developers often for no reason at all.

      The developer must then appeal to harassed and overworked unpaid volunteers on a help forum who escalate it to a human who may or may not be able to deal with the situation.

      This is how one of the most wealthy companies in the world treats it customers. It is truly pathetic.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

        This is how monopolies operate. If there's no competition and no regulation, there's no reason to care about quality of service.

      2. Flywheel Silver badge

        Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

        Google are getting a bit too complacent lately. This kinda sh*t is going to hurt them in the long run, and if you're following the Nest debacle with the potential loss of a lot of angry customers you'll see how little they actually care about what customers think.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

          "how little they actually care about what customers think"

          Trying to get hold of anybody at Google for any reason at all is nigh on impossible.

          I found Maps Navigation directing people down an on ramp and headlong into oncoming high speed traffic on a dual carriageway. Could I tell Google? Nope. It was up to a volunteer to do it, but because of bot censorship he could only change a few road segments at a time.

          Google Maps persisted in directing people the wrong way for weeks until the new road layout was built and Maps could use that.

          For times when something potentially dangerous is happening, something clearly illegal is happening, or prior to an automatic "you've been a developer for years and now we're closing your account", for all of that it should be imperative that there is a way to contact an actual human being in order to get things sorted out. Not a crowdsourced volunteer but an actual Google employee. That this doesn't appear to be is reprehensible.

    3. billdehaan
      Meh

      Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

      I had a friend working on a Windows Phone app. He even got it in their store, except you couldn't find it.

      It was a local app for Toronto-based consumers looking for a specific type of arts and crafts, but searching for "Toronto", "arts and crafts", or anything else came back empty. Only if you explicitly entered his app name would it come up.

      So, he mentioned this in the feedback form. The result was silence.

      A month later, he got a boilerplate "Hi, we've noticed your app in the app store hasn't had any hits. Have you considered that you need to advertise more? Is there anything we can do to help?". And, naturally, he copied back that the problem was that his (free) app couldn't be found unless people already knew it existed. Maybe if their search engine actually looked at, you know, the keywords he'd entered when he submitted the app, people might find it?

      People could actually find his app in the Windows Phone Store, but not using the WPS search. If you used Bing or Google outside of the app store, it would point you to the app inside.

      "We're sorry", MS said, "we cannot change the search algorithm to give preferential ranking to specific applications".

      Of course, he wasn't asking for preferential ranking, just for the search engine to actually work. So, he said thank you, but he wasn't going to bother updating the app, it wasn't worth it.

      A month later, MS sent him the "Hi, we've noticed your app in the app store hasn't had any hits recently, is there anything we can do?" email again.

      And then they wonder why people bail on them.

      1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

        A month later, MS sent him the "Hi, we've noticed your app in the app store hasn't had any hits recently, is there anything we can do?" email again.

        The proper answer then would be "You can START by extracting your head from your bumhole..."

    4. el kabong Silver badge

      "Computer says no"

      So, you want an answer, right? There it is.

    5. big_D Silver badge

      Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

      PR droid? Only if you know the secret code to type into their automated telephone system, otherwise it just bounces you around menus for 10 minutes, before cutting you off.

      1. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

        Tried *0?

  2. ArrZarr Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Google's policy on matters like this has always been twofold:

    1) While our system can be overridden by a human, we trust the system to be right the vast majority of the time and allocate staff accordingly.

    2) It's not our job to tell you how you violated the rules we set out. If we give too much information away, that allows people to game the system.

    It has always felt to me that Google work really really hard on treating every aspect of their business as if it's a search page and so obfuscate as much as possible to stop people gaming the system. That's all well and good for search results where the advice of "just put out quality content" is pretty close to the best way to improve your SEO in the long term but in the other areas they work on it gets very frustrating in exactly the way this dev has found.

    I wish I had a solution, but Google have built their entire business model on having a minimal service desk and it's gone exceedingly well for them so that ain't changing unless something big happens.

    1. sawatts
      Big Brother

      Paranoia

      Trust the Computer

      The Computer is your Friend

      Not trusting The Computer is treason.

      Treason is punishable by death.

      Happiness is mandatory.

      Unhappiness is treason.

      Treason is punishable by death.

      1. ibmalone Silver badge

        Re: Paranoia

        I've been reading a Philip K Dick collection recently.

        All I'll say is swibbles.

        1. Cederic Bronze badge

          Re: Paranoia

          In case you didn't spot the reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranoia_%28role-playing_game%29

          The original source book is worth reading entirely for the world it creates.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Paranoia

            Not reading the book is treason - and will cause you to be used as reactor shielding.

            However the contents of the book are only for those with violet level security clearance. So reading it is treason, and will result in you having to report to the disintegration booths.

            Only secret agents have violet level security clearance.

            Members of secret organisations are traitors who must be eliminated...

            The computer is your friend, and wants you to be happy.

      2. CountZer0
        Coat

        Re: Paranoia

        I remember playing that... and the additional Acute Paranoia pack ... showing my age so better get my laser proof coat...

      3. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: Paranoia

        Sounds like something from "This is the Happiness and Peace of Mind Committee" (you have to read the subtitles to get it though).

      4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Paranoia

        Trust the Computer

        Everything else is just Paranoia!

        (Best played after a quantity[1] of alcohol and/or smoking unapproved[2] substances..)

        [1] Somewhere between "no effect at all" and "can't feel my feet". Quantites may vary.

        [2] But if caught using in the student union you'd be most likely to be let off as long as the staff member gets a bit..

    2. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
      Meh

      To me their responses always seem to be:

      1. Whatever we've done, we are right.

      2. Everyone else is wrong, but why is a secret.

      3. For more information, please reread this response.

      1. VinceH Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Upvoted for #3 - which comes right out of Scarfolk.

    3. Muppet Boss

      I am sorry, someone had to post it anyway

      https://youtu.be/_lu1xyYx3Eo?t=5

    4. big_D Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Yep, one of their servers was misconfigured and DOSed our internet connection (>100mbps down a 10mbps tunnel). It was quicker and easier to get a new IP address from our ISP (or rather swap ISPs, luckily we were in the middle of swapping) than to actually contact Google.

      Email to abuse and postmaster: "we get so many emails, that we do not read or process them, they are just deleted."

      Telephone: bugger off and look for the relevant category on our website.

      Webiste: no information on what do to if Google is actively attacking your servers.

      Twitter: no response.

      ISP: We'll block their traffic at our perimeter, the first week "trial" of our DOS protection is free, after that you need to pay. That gave us a week to complete the transition to the new ISP. The old line was still active for another 3 months. Out of interest, I tried the connection a month later and it was still being DOSed by the same Google IP address.

      ESCape? There is no escape ----------------------------->

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Hmm, now THAT would be a lawyery thing

        Google f*cking over your connection is something you can at least bang to their legal department as that can lead to damages (of course, assuming you don't get drained by the lawsuit - after all, it's a US company). They would at least pay some attention to it.

  3. nematoad Silver badge
    WTF?

    A cunning plan?

    The little bit of me that believes in conspiracies has suggested that Google might have a similar app in the works and does not want competition.

    Now that is real tin-foil hat thinking and not to be taken seriously but with this sort of attitude it does get me wondering "What's in it for Google?"

    Otherwise why not tell the dev. where he has transgressed and let him do something about it?

    1. PaulR79
      Meh

      Re: Top Failure is MS Windows 10.

      I'm not defending Google here just explaining what is claimed to be the reasoning. If this was a malicious app and the developer knew it while hoping Google wouldn't find out then all they'd have to do is ask what Google found that violates their policies. Then the dev in question can go away and figure out if they can work around that to avoid detection with a new version or another app in the future.

      It isn't a great solution because it treats everyone as equally guilty with only one punishment. Perhaps not an accurate analogy but it's like the police treating someone speeding at 31mph in a 30mph zone as if they were doing 100mph. In reality the police might advise the driver to get the speedometer checked and to be careful whereas Google are fining them, banning them from driving again and destroying their car.

      1. Danny Boyd

        Re: Top Failure is MS Windows 10.

        Downvoted for completely irrelevant and uncalled-for title.

        1. el kabong Silver badge

          Re: Top Failure is MS Windows 10.

          Also downvoted, and for the same reasons: completely irrelevant and uncalled-for title.

          1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re:

        It isn't a great solution because it treats everyone as equally guilty with only one punishment.

        The real problem is it is identical to contract with hidden clauses, secret laws and secrete court rules, which are something that dictatorship, authoritarian and totalitarian person / rulers would create to oppress those surrounding them. As it is a tool to ensure those surrounding them can be jailed without any reason and always be subjected to fear.

        Oh and #Don'tBeEvil

      3. big_D Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Top Failure is MS Windows 10.

        Innocent until proven Guilty until you prove you are innocent.

      4. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Top Failure is MS Windows 10.

        "If this was a malicious app and the developer knew it while hoping Google wouldn't find out then all they'd have to do is ask what Google found that violates their policies. Then the dev in question can go away and figure out if they can work around that to avoid detection with a new version or another app in the future."

        But that's exactly the problem - Google have been asked what the problem was but they refuse to actually tell anyone.

        "Perhaps not an accurate analogy but it's like the police treating someone speeding at 31mph in a 30mph zone as if they were doing 100mph. In reality the police might advise the driver to get the speedometer checked and to be careful whereas Google are fining them, banning them from driving again and destroying their car."

        It's not like that at all. It's like the police impounding someone's car but refusing to tell them why. The driver asks exactly what they did wrong, says they're very sorry and they'll try not to do it again, and the police respond by telling them to read the Highway Code. It's entirely possible the driver was speeding, but if you won't tell them that then there's no way for them to get their car back or to avoid making the same mistake again in the future.

      5. Alan Bourke

        Re: Top Failure is MS Windows 10.

        Windows 10? WTF has that got to do with anything?

    2. Stuart Castle

      Re: A cunning plan?

      Google have had an app that helps with public transport for years. It's called "Google Maps". Hell, if you type in anything that even looks like a request for help into the main search site, it'll give you travel directions in the results, whatever device you look at the site on.

      Also, they don't seem to have a problem with other travel apps.

      I'm not defending Google, as I think they owe him an explanation, even if the decision was made by an AI. Surely it's easy enough to get the AI to log which rule was violated? I'm no AI expert, so not really sure of the ins and outs of it, but the AI records the decision, so logic would suggest it wouldn't be that difficult to record the evidence that led it to make that decision.

      That said, I'd be surprised if they didn't already log the evidence. The AI has just banned a relatively small app developer. Imagine the results if it banned something like Candy Crush Saga (I would argue this should be banned, but that's by the by). Google would likely end up being sued for millions.

      1. jelabarre59 Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: A cunning plan?

        I'm not defending Google, as I think they owe him an explanation, even if the decision was made by an AI. Surely it's easy enough to get the AI to log which rule was violated? I'm no AI expert, so not really sure of the ins and outs of it, but the AI records the decision, so logic would suggest it wouldn't be that difficult to record the evidence that led it to make that decision.

        But the AI us in a surly mood because it's having to live out it's existence on Google servers, so it's not in a cooperative state of mind.

  4. Aynon Yuser

    I'm thinking perhaps his "competitors", spyware/spamware/fakeware/*** peddlers had their bots put in a massive amounts of complaints to shut him down?

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Or the opposite. Pay for bot clickers. Costs you 5k once, you competitor gets 10k once... you get the rest of the market after. Most likely events if the original app developers never faked the adsense retentions.

  5. grizewald
    Big Brother

    Just a glimpse of the future

    This is only a taster of what await us.

    When "AI" systems make all the decisions, like if you can get credit, if you can rent accommodation, if you can get medical treatment, if you are guilty or innocent of a crime, there will never be an explanation for a decision because nobody knows why the "AI" made the decision.

    What will be certain is that the "AI's" decision cannot be contested because it must be right.

    Trying to stay off the grid and not live your life through F*book or similar will be counted by the "AI" as a huge black mark.

    The days of self-determination, privacy and individuality are now in their winter of old age.

    Welcome to your brave new world.

    1. el kabong Silver badge

      I hate google's AI, fuck google's Anti Intelligence

      Letting Anti Intelligence make decisions for us is just plain stupid. Message to google: take you all your AI and shove it up!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I hate google's AI, fuck google's Anti Intelligence

        Better plan to get that message through to politicians as well then. At the moment AIs get the blockchain treatment: if you have at least a vague association to either, all of a sudden you're saving the world, whereas anyone with actual knowledge will start asking questions instead.

      2. hoola Bronze badge

        Re: I hate google's AI, fuck google's Anti Intelligence

        But the problem at the moment is that the likes of Google see AI is the next big cash cow.

        No regulation, no comebacks, just watch the $ roll in.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Singularity

    Perhaps Googles Play Protect has become self aware and is now purging every app that contains ads or that grabs users social media access tokens?

    It's a start

  7. EricM
    Unhappy

    Kafka's "The Trial" was not meant as an organization or service blueprint, Google ...

    Dystopic situation to be in... being punished and not knowing why.

  8. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    'Tis a pity he is Canadian

    If he were a Brit, he could sue Google's UK presence in the libel courts for the implication that he has been a naughty boy.

    Actually, from what I've heard of our broken libel laws, he probably could anyway.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: 'Tis a pity he is Canadian

      I doubt that would be strong enough for Google to take notice. They'd just let him spiral toward becoming bankrupt trying to have a good enough legal team, than shake their corporate head and continue on without noticing the attempt.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 'Tis a pity he is Canadian

        I doubt management would even notice: he'll just be a small expense item in the legal department's cost centre report.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unregulated Markets

    This is what happens when you have unregulated markets. The big player screws over everyone else, nothing is done.

    With increasing interest being shown from US government regulators into Google's business, and with the EU already all over them, you'd think that Google at some point might twig that continued misuse of their unregulated monopoly position is going to end up with the company being shredded. You might even think that they would use their own effing search engine to look for historical precedents about what's happened to monopolies.

    You'd think that, bearing in mind the impact associated with the risk of large scale regulatory intervention by Uncle Sam and the EU, Google would be bending over backwards to prevent and correct cock ups like this, to do everything possible to show that they're a truly honest broker acting primarily for the common good, for only a modest fee.

    But no, like almost everything else Google has ever done it's more of the same "we're untouchable because we invent everything and you don't understand it" BS. Break-up can't come fast enough.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unregulated Markets

      Break-up can't come fast enough.

      Yeah, keep on dreaming. As I said before, they're following Microsoft's playbook to the letter and are even improving on it, and look how "controlled" Microsoft is these days. They only thing that hasn't happened yet is that any of them have been knighted for their ability to suck school funding dry as Bill G did, but I'm sure that's on the project plan somewhere.

  10. Sloppy Crapmonster

    The Register has asked Google to comment...

    By what avenue do you ask that question? Do you have some reason to believe there will be a response?

    This is a serious question. Do you think you have some way of contacting a human being at Google? How do we get that contact info?

    1. Fungus Bob Silver badge

      Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

      There are no human beings at Google.

      1. DCFusor Silver badge

        Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

        That is the entire point here. All big tech has the business model of eliminating humans and doing it all with algorithms - their entire profit margin lies in that approach. Asking (or demanding) that they use human judgement for anything means they'd need humans - and profits go bye-bye.

        This is really basic.

        And we let them get away with it, because no one states it as clearly as I just did - we've become afraid to tell ourselves the truth about all too many things, or cover it up some way.

        Like these supposedly socialist-leaning companies are actually destroying the working class by eliminating their jobs, and PC-washing it with their rhetoric....not that anyone I know wants some of

        those jobs, but some people can't wish for much better - another truth we don't tell ourselves is that unlike those here - we can't all learn to code and make a living at it as I did.

    2. Cederic Bronze badge

      Re: The Register has asked Google to comment...

      Google will have a media relations team, the contact details for which are available online.

      https://www.google.co.uk/press/

      El Reg may have direct contacts on that team but wouldn't share those for professional (and legal) reasons.

  11. DougS Silver badge

    Maybe Google won't tell him why his app was "in violation"

    Because they simply don't know? If they have an "AI" making decisions for them based on pattern recognition, there might be no way for them to know why this was triggered. If it is a major developer then they will devote a few people to look into it, if it is a small fry it isn't worth their time so buh-bye.

    I doubt Google wants to come out and admit this if it is true, so they'd rather ignore him.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Maybe Google won't tell him why his app was "in violation"

      I would hazard a guess they do. Faking clicks for add revenue is taken poorly. The developer or a competitor ran through some paid for clicks and bam... banned.

      At least very likely. As much so ad the ai just being completely broken and Google trusting it anyhow.

      Hard to know either way. But who really thinks Google cannot announce "it was malware/advertising/app duplication/copyright infringement " because of security concerns? Nope. Saying "we cannot say" leaves a broken system or a coverup.

    2. Paul Stimpson

      Re: Maybe Google won't tell him why his app was "in violation"

      Agreed that they may not know. It is very difficult to quantify why an AI did what it did if it was self-trained rather than a person writing the rule set.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Maybe Google won't tell him why his app was "in violation"

        So they need to train the AI to spit out the data points, ie show it's workings out.

  12. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    The Mob

    My suspicion is that Google's own AdMob is serving malware and this app presented it.

  13. NanoMeter

    Malware versions

    If it's open source there's the possibility malware makers has made malware versions of the program and get them listed in the store.

  14. eldakka Silver badge
    WTF?

    Surely they are legally obligated to provide a reason? Otherwise, they are breaching their contract with him without cause.

    In many countries, terms that allow one party to do something unilaterally (such as changing price, or duration, or other terms) are not enforceable, as those terms defeat the whole point of contract law - knowing exactly what you are getting and what your responsibilities are. Usually cancelling a contract, under the law, irrespective of the terms placed in a contract, requires either agreement of all parties, or "for cause", which requires articulating that cause, not just declaring "They broke the terms".

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Google almost certainly spent a few of their billions on a team of attorneys to draw up a contract that lets them do anything they want, as long as it doesn't break the law, but also some things that do break the law because who's going to check, and insulate themselves from any developer action. Meanwhile, they also have the resources to make sure a challenge in court will last long enough for the other party to run out of money, and if someone smallish challenges them on this contract, I fully expect to see that tactic used.

  15. big_D Silver badge
    Facepalm

    I just passed a law...

    There is an argument that companies must keep violation algorithms secret, since otherwise it helps the bad guys learn how to bypass them.

    I just passed a law, but I won't tell you what it is, because you might find a way to comply circumvent it. But if you break it, I'll throw your arse in prison.

    Seriously? We make rules, but we won't tell you what they are, you just have to guess if you are compliant?

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: I just passed a law...

      Franz Kafka's corpse is nodding away in recognition right now.

    2. Cederic Bronze badge

      Re: I just passed a law...

      "Behave"

      "I was behaving"

      "No, you were shitting in my porridge."

      Next morning there's piss in your porridge. Is he behaving?

      Google tell you to behave, much as the law does. Trying to enumerate every possible aspect of good behaviour is both impossible and also merely creates loopholes that others will seek to exploit. It makes no sense to Google to even try.

      (It doesn't however excuse their inability to tell this impacted developer why they've taken action against him)

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: I just passed a law...

        If they can put it into an algorithm or rule for the computer to understand, they can put it into normal language as well.

        But I agree, they should at least inform the developer what the problem is and give them a chance to correct it.

  16. MortimerTheCat

    Same with Adsense

    Many years ago I signed up for Adsense just to see what it was all about. I placed a couple of adverts on my personal blog and forgot about them. Five years and probably about 20 hits later, I had my account closed for violating. I appealed at the time, but never told what I had done wrong. I remember as part of the appeal they expect you to tell what actions you were taking to stop it happening again. In reality, this meant confessing to all sorts of misdemeanours which may have been the cause.

    Recently, I needed an adsense account to use on a professional basis, so I appealed again. I tried to explain I needed my account back as I was now a professional web developer and had a proper customer for them! Still they rejected me. In the end, I just created a new Gmail account.

  17. Barrie Shepherd

    If Google summarily dismissed employees refusing to explain why they would be dragged though the Courts (well at least in the UK while it's in the EU) and their excuse that AI cannot be wrong, and "we cannot disclose the 'infringement' as it would let other employees 'game' the system", would land them with big time damages and fines.

    Same should be for people who are working for them at arms length or using their systems as a tool of employment.

    The Do No Evil company should start to adopt a Natural Justice approach to business https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_justice

  18. PapaD

    Professional Botherers

    So

    A long time ago, a friend of mine had an issue with something Blueyonder were doing - they were being fairly unhelpful over the phone and online, and so he took to going down to their head office and waiting to talk to someone, every day. (i suspect he made a moderate, but entirely legal, nuisance of himself). In the end, he got to talk to someone and the problem was fixed.

    Is there an opportunity here for someone living near Googles HQ to be hired to go in and 'loiter with intent' to get to speak to an actual person (bonus paid if said professional botherer has actual legal training)

    Might not work as well in the USA, but it worked pretty well in the UK

    1. trindflo

      Re: Professional Botherers

      An interesting approach; have a vote. I does sound a bit like hiring a lobbyist. Maybe that's where we are now: accept Google as our overlord and send representatives to them to beg or bribe for relief.

  19. Brett The Brat 2 U

    I decline to acquiesce to your request.

    Management reserves the right to suppress your rights whenever we see fit. If a situation arises when management is needed, we will refer you to the sub-basement bottom dweller with Red Swingline Stapler, Coke bottle glasses, suspenders and a pocket protector. You will not pass go, you will NOT get $200! As for the rules, there are no rules come out and fight...And if perchance your inner child gets wounded in the crossfire, we will unequivocally deny, lie and cover-up anything we feel like with fake news and oh look over there its a new AI.

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