back to article Podcast Addict banned from Google Play Store because heaven forbid app somehow references COVID-19

Popular Android app Podcast Addict has been suspended from the Google Play Store, apparently for mentioning COVID-19. "Are you for real Google. Can you please check your own Google Podcast App?" the frustrated developer said on Twitter. The app claims to be the top podcast app on Android and is certainly very popular, with …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Well there's the problem

    "as a single human I don't scale well"

    Well duh. Google has billions in the bank and can't be arsed to hire more than a single person to manage app rejections ?

    Ridiculous.

    1. David Neil

      Re: Well there's the problem

      Not even that many, reads as if he did it off his own back rather than an official role

    2. Mark192

      That's not his job

      The person that helped them out was just a passing 'Developer advocate' for the Google Chrome Developer Relations team.

      He lodged an appeal, on behalf of the developer, to the team who's job it actually is to make these decisions.

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Well there's the problem

      What do you expect, some kind of AI? Google of all people know that's impossible.

    4. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Well there's the problem

      We had a problem with Google a few years ago and it was very sobering, how you can best deal with Google.

      One of their servers suddenly started spamming our Internet connection (10mbps connection being stuffed with around 100mbps of traffic from the Google server) - possibly a misconfigured server that was supposed to send information to another part of Google and our IP address was mistakenly entered?.

      Tried contacting them at abuse@ and webmaster@ addresses. Automatic answer that this account is not read and the message had been automatically deleted!

      Okay, call them... Over 20 minutes bouncing back and forth over their automated telephone system, before being spat out and left with a dead connection.

      Twitter didn't bring any help either. In the end, we had to contact our commercial ISP and get the Google IP address blocked at their border, which was a subscription service costs nearly 3 figures a month! In the end, we just accelerated our move to a new ISP and got a new IP address, it was quicker and easier to arrange than to get Google acknowledge a problem. For all I know, the Google server is still spamming the old IP address.

      1. Chris Hills

        Re: Well there's the problem

        If the target was in the UK then it is probably breaking some law. It would have been fun to prosecute Google for computer misuse.

      2. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Well there's the problem

        I had a similar sounding issue with Microsoft at one point.

        I logged an issue, got a standard boilerplate acknowledgement saying the usual "we'll look at this issue when hell boils over" and left it like that. I kept getting flooded with shit for another few weeks.

        I then set up a complicated fudge of scripts to automate recording the incoming problem, crafting a support message and attaching the requested debug into and logging it with Microsoft Support and filing their email acknowledgement. I then felt a twinge of conscience before setting it live.

        It didn't take long to get an email from Microsoft support diplomatically inquiring if I would kindly desist from logging issues at a rate of about 30 per second as they'd got the message that the issue needed to be investigated. With it being late on a Friday afternoon I had a much more serious crisis of conscience, resolved by heading off to the pub with everybody else.

        The problem was apparently fixed over the course of the weekend as there were no more reports being generated on the Monday morning. I do hope their helldesk system allowed programmatic closing of tickets; ~30 reports per second is around 1800 requests per minute and 108,000 per hour, which is something like 2.59 million individual reports over a 24 hour period.

        1. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: Well there's the problem

          Brilliant. It's only when *they* become inconvenienced do they respond.

          As for the original poster, well, the guy who lodged the appeal was a developer advocate. It wasn't his job to lodge the appeal. His job is to make sure relationships between developers and Google remain well and good.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: Well there's the problem

            This is the way of the world, unfortunately.

            I do to this day wonder how they dealt with it from their side though; I have never met a servicedesk system that would allow any easy way of dealing with 1800 requests a minute. Even if you could group select and bulk delete say 200 in a go, you'd still have to do that nine times a minute to keep up with the incoming volume of problems being logged.

            Mind you, if they flagged them all as "complete" after dealing with the problem then it would have had an interesting and statistically significant effect on their average response times.

            1. J. Cook Silver badge

              Re: Well there's the problem

              Easy-peasy, if you know where the database instance holding the tickets resides, and something common to all the spammed tickets. A single T-SQL line will take them all out.

              1. Peter2 Silver badge

                Re: Well there's the problem

                If you have access to the database, then sure.

                But in a large multinational organisation, i'd say that they wouldn't have wanted the helpdesk deleting any tickets that messed up their SLA's, so wouldn't have had access to this easily. They'd have to have done it that way I suppose though, can you imagine doing it through user level tools? The mind boggles.

          2. Paul

            Re: Well there's the problem

            "His job is to make sure relationships between developers and Google remain well and good."

            Google need a metric shit-ton more of people who actually listen to people and act.

    5. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Well there's the problem

      "Well duh. Google has billions in the bank and can't be arsed to hire more than a single person to manage app rejections ?"

      Indeed. People love to talk about how monitoring apps, videos on Youtube, and so on isn't easy because there are just so many of them. But the fact is that it is incredibly easy - you just need to employ enough people to actually do the job. Is that more expensive than waffling about automation while refusing to actually address the problem in any meaningful way? Almost certainly. Might that mean some business models might not actually be profitable? Quite possibly. You do not have the inherent right to a profitable business.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Well there's the problem

        The thing is though, about that "profitable business" thing. Personally, I just ignore Google's profitability and look at Google's parent company Alphabet where all of the money actually ends up. Alphabet makes ten billion profit a quarter. That's forty billion profit a year. Numerically, 0.1% of that profit would be forty million.

        In the UK you could hire people for 15k to do a simple job of "is this objectionable" quite easily since a lot of people get paid less than this to do far more unpleasant jobs.

        At 1.5x the cost which is the rough ballpark used to account for tax, pensions, office space, equipment etc that'd cost 22.5k p/a per employee so for 40 million you'd get ~1,777 people doing the job for around 0.1% of the companies yearly profit so it's not really even a case of the business model not being profitable.

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: Well there's the problem

          "At 1.5x the cost which is the rough ballpark used to account for tax, pensions, office space, equipment etc that'd cost 22.5k p/a per employee so for 40 million you'd get ~1,777 people doing the job for around 0.1% of the companies yearly profit so it's not really even a case of the business model not being profitable."

          Sure, but if you're going to look at the entire company's global profit, you also have to think about the cost of doing the moderation globally. Maybe you could handle the work in the UK with 2000-odd people. Then you need another 2000 or so for each other country in Europe, and for each similarly-sized one around the world. Probably 10 times that for a bigger country like the US. That means it's easily 1% of profits just moderating a single country, and probably at least 20-30% in total. And that's assuming minimum wage is enough to cut it, when they're (certainly Facebook at least, I think Google as well) already having issues with lawsuits and claims for psychological treatment even with the minimal amount of people involved. Could they do it and still be profitable? Maybe, I don't think we have anywhere near enough information here to do a real calculation. But it would certainly be a significant hit to profits even if it's not enough to kill things off entirely.

          It's also worth noting that the Google/Alphabet thing isn't really worth worrying about. Google accounts for 99.4% of Alphabet's revenue. Alphabet isn't a real company, it's just a shell to collect Google's stuff together under a different name and funnel some of the money to speculative projects (like self-driving cars). Any distinction between the two names is completely meaningless; it's all either just Google, or Google wearing a false nose.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big tech - the solution is simple

    Too many apps to moderate proactively?

    Too many posts to look at by humans?

    Too many video uploads to check them all?

    It's simple - employ more people. Maybe the ones your rent-seeking efforts are putting out of work.

    And if you cannot manage your scale, then don't scale!

    Which leads me to another conclusion, this time for devs.

    Stop treating the tech giant devs and their issuances as the cream of the crop and the founts of techie excellence. They prove daily that they don't know how to scale, or how to do AI/ML, any better than anyone else. There is a myth associated with them, and it's undeserved. They are good but no better than the rest.

    So much of the techie world is full of little emperors with no clothes.

    1. Mark192

      Re: Big tech - the solution is simple

      Small companies are great because they have people that are motivated and care.

      As they get bigger they get filled by people that are just there for the paycheck.

      Also,

      Small companies can't afford to have everything checked by humans. Facebook sees the increasing demand for moderation as a barrier to new competitors, therefore protecting its market share (albeit with a cost).

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Big tech - the solution is simple

        That is part of the problem, Google and Facebook are considered big companies based on revenue and users, yet they are tiny companies, in terms of employees per customer, they have scaled their tech without ensuring that there are enough people in place to deal with the expansion.

        The same is true about the law. When they are small, they circumvent the law and they scale up, circumventing the law until the authorities come a-knocking and suddenly their systems have been scaled up so much that it is "impractical" to comply with the law - i.e. it would be prohibitively expensive to obey the law, it is cheaper to keep paying the fines and lawyers than it is to actually tackle the problem.

        They should follow the law from the beginning and they should scale their solutions for staying inside the law as they grow, that way the revenue model grows taking into account compliance - but that isn't sexy, because revenues will be lower than they could be - instead of getting "sticker shock" when they suddenly have to actually comply.

  3. Mark192

    AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

    Did the developer miss an email giving them X days to appeal' or does Google just boot them off and then start asking questions?

    1. jospanner

      Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

      Knowing Big Tech? The latter.

    2. Irongut Silver badge

      Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

      There is usually a warning period and if it is a change in policy there will be multiple emails before it comes into effect that explain how to be compliant.

      As an app dev I see a lot of similar reports on community sites. In most cases the dev compalins they don't understand Goggle's email but the reason is right there, in this case violations of the 'User Data Privacy' policy. Usually that means your store page doesn't include or link to a privacy policy but it could also mean you're doing things you shouldn't with user data.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

        Having developed stuff to work with adwords, this isn't new behaviour. They've been doing this sort of sudden change with little to no warning for at least a decade.

        Yes they'd send emails, but I never once remember receiving one that explicitly warned me that an upcoming change was going to set a bin fire again that would then be my problem to fix again. Even more fun when they drop documenting API calls. That was a fun few weeks trying figure out camelcase/bem/strongly typed APIs with only a vague error response to go on.

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

        No, they do NOT send warning emails. Your app disappears off Play and you get a "you were removed because" or even simply "you were removed" with no explanation.

      3. Olius

        Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

        "...usually that means..."

        There's the warning light, right there: Their email doesn't explain what the problem is, it wants you to guess.

      4. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: violations of the 'User Data Privacy' policy

        What coud be clearer than that?

        Telling them what the specific violation is.

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: violations of the 'User Data Privacy' policy

          Which is about as clear as receiving a letter for a traffic violation with a fine.

          No mention what rule was broken or how the traffic was violated.

          So nothing to give you an idea of just needs remedying nor how to challenge an injust accusation.

    3. Podcast Addict

      Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

      I'm the app developer, and no there was no warning. Just an email sent Saturday morning at 2am telling me that the app was suspended and that I had to fix the issue and then publish it as a NEW app...

      1. John Gamble

        Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

        Ugh. I hope this gets resolved. I have Podcast Addict installed on my phone, it works extremely well, and I don't want to have to deal with a second download. Good luck to you.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

        Great app that I have meant to purchase as I use it loads. As soon as it's back I'll be sending some £ your way thanks.

      3. Mark192

        The horses mouth said:

        "I'm the app developer, and no there was no warning. Just an email ... telling me that the app was suspended and that I had to fix the issue and then publish it as a NEW app..."

        A new app?! What the actual F?

      4. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

        Best podcast app going. I don't want to have to sideload, but I will if I have to.

      5. The Bobster

        Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

        Another satisfied user. IAP on its way.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

        Everyone operating within the Google/YouTube environment has signed up for these problems. If a small part of Google's business is no longer needed then it can just die and they won't care.

        I noticed with Amazon that they were duplicating their orders for each address you held on the system. They sent out 3 printers but only charged me for one. This happened more than once and to my friend as well. Once we realised that Amazon did not want the items back and we're not going to charge, we ended up with quite a few things.

        They have fixed the bug now but can you imagine a small business allow such a thing to go unchecked for months?

    4. big_D Silver badge

      Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

      With the current COVID-19 situation (and increasingly with hate speech etc. on the social networks), they don't have time to react. They shoot first and ask questions later.

    5. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: AI is rubbish, developer doesn't read emails?

      If software is pre judged to be deliberately abusive then you'd want it blocked at once. I presume there are naughty people out there whose actual job is to put malware into trusted channels and who spend all day just doing that. Giving them the benefit of the doubt is over generous.

  4. Barry Rueger

    Yet again, screwed over by Google

    I absolutely love Podcast Addict, even the endlessly convoluted menus.

    More and more I look for alternatives to Google. Whereas the biggest problem used to be Google shutting down a Google app or feature that you need, now it's perfectly usable third-party apps that stand to disappear.

    I for one look forward to Huawei developing an Android and Google free phone OS.

    1. GBE

      Re: Yet again, screwed over by Google

      I find the menus a bit obtuse at times also, but it's still way better than the other podcast apps I've tried. I appreciated it enough to cough up the $2.99 to remove the ads. Hopefully Google didn't just screw me out of my three bucks...

    2. Tom Chiverton 1

      Re: Yet again, screwed over by Google

      AntennaPod not up to scratch, with its simpler menus?

    3. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: I for one look forward to Huawei developing an Android and Google free phone OS.

      They have a Google free one, it's rubbish apparently, not enough Google: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2020/05/18/review_huawei_p40_pro/

    4. Paul

      Re: Yet again, screwed over by Google

      Pinephone from pine64.

  5. Steve Foster

    Publish Elsewhere?

    Perhaps it's time for developers to ensure that they provide the installation APKs on their own website as well as via the Google Store, so that there's a way for users to obtain the latest versions even when Google muck things up^Hfail to scale again.

    This has the useful benefit of allowing their software to be sourced by those who either don't have access to the Google Store (eg Huawei users) or who wish to avoid it (eg privacy advocates).

    1. Graham Cobb

      Re: Publish Elsewhere?

      I agree as long as there is an easy way to check the apk is signed by a particular key, or the key that the version it is replacing was signed by.

      I have a few phones which do not have the Google Play store. Some of them are running old versions of apps that are useful to me. But if I find a new version of the app I want to be sure it has been created by the same people as my existing version and not substituted with a trojan.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Https

        If the APK is downloaded via a secure https connection to the company official site, the key is only going to be verifable across a https connection anyway, so that sets the upper limit of verification as https.

        Every company should publish the official APKs on their own site downloaded across https. Otherwise they're locking themselves into Google, and Google can play companies off against each other for ad money.

        Worse, if you ever try to disable Google Play Store, it will uninstall everything you've bought in the store to force you not to uninstall it.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Publish Elsewhere?

      >Perhaps it's time for developers to ensure ...there's a way for users to obtain the latest versions

      Its more than just the latest versions.

      Do a factory reset and you may find that many apps can't be installed because the latest version doesn't run on your particular version of Android.

      However, with a little digging around you can often find a site - of unknown repute - that has a few old versions, which you can try and find one you can install and then update.

    3. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: Publish Elsewhere?

      Obviously that sounds like a sensible idea but if your main publishing spot is via Google then you risk losing that. If Google realises your App is available from your website they could easily ban it from their store and even get the OS to flag it as a virus.

  6. tin 2

    "Every time I see an email from Google it is terrifying."

    There is a great summary of the problem.

  7. chrisgibson

    Arse!

    Podcast Addict is the best app I have. The developer has put a link to the APK file online, link in his Twitter feed, that doesn't let him make any money from sales or advertising that is tied to Google/Android though. Googles attitude to developers and appalling communication is outrageous. Might be considering a Huawei for my next phone.

  8. osakajin

    Is no one worried about this in terms of whats the next keyword to get you into trouble? This is normalising censorship. Totally terrifying.

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      normalising censorship?

      The Google Play Store is a commercial venture. If they think something won't make them money they can remove it. Censorship is the wrong word to use for a marketplace, this is business pure and simple.

      When they fuss your search results, that's censorship, when they ban an app from their store, that's their prerogative.

      It's Google's market. They have complete discretion over what's in their store. If you based your business on them allowing you access you took a massive risk.

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: normalising censorship?

        Lots of downvotes but sabroni is right.

        If you're part of google's ecosystem, you're there because it benefits you commercially. If google says jump and you don't ask how high, tough.

        It may be difficult to exist outside the dominant culture but plenty of people have been pointing out the problems with monocultures forever. If you want to make use of google, facebook or microsoft, play by their rules or play somewhere else.

        Better yet, do your best to bring down monocultures. In the end, they only benefit themselves.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: normalising censorship?

          Kinda. These companies are starting to encroach on other areas of life though. Thus the shared responsibility. Things like racism, ageism etc can be regulated against. So if their actions at times can be illegal, even if not for free speech reasons.

  9. Mark 78

    Podcast Addict is back

    Looks like it's back in the store now.

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: Podcast Addict is back

      Aye - briefly thought "why can I still see it in the Play store?", so also tried with an incognito tab. Found in search, able to install. An excellent app.

  10. veti Silver badge

    Consistency?

    Has Gmail also been pulled? How about Chrome, are they pulling that or simply replacing every mention of "coronavirus" with "Rick Astley"?

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Consistency?

      I suspect it could be even worse. AI learning knows no difference between "Covid19" and Co-Vid-19 the co-process for video encoding version 19 that you make for your App. :P

      Icon, because all they wanted was all the paperclips, kitten pics and stamps in the world.

  11. Jason Hindle

    Thanks on two counts....

    1. Publicity seems to have bought it back and more notorious than ever!

    2. Never heard of it. Just tried it. Somewhat better than Google's app (listened to the latest More Or Less, and The Inquiry, over breakfast).

    The takeaway? Don't depend on Google's services; be promiscuous with your app stores (Huawei will thank you).

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't get it.

    Did the author have the terms in his App description? Or was the app pulled because you could download podcasts that talked about Corona/Covid19?

  13. Onga

    Where did it mention COVID-19?

    I assume things like this get flagged because the code or some metadata related to the app references COVID-19/coronavirus and the reference is spotted during some static analysis. Things like podcast names and descriptions are only going to be available at runtime via some feed or API call.

    If my assumption is correct, then surely there is no need for the code itself to mention either of these terms? Even things like categories have the option to be externally driven to get around the filters.

  14. Efer Brick

    Computer says no

    Coff

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