Google Play Developer Program Policy Update: Why It’s No Threat To Native Advertising

A couple of weeks ago, Google updated their Play Store Developer Program Policies with a few substantial changes, notably in terms of app content, app store promotion and advertising. While this is somewhat old news, there are a few points we’d like to focus on more specifically for what they mean for the industry as a whole, and for native advertising in particular.ex1ex1ex1 First of all, it seems that Google continues to tighten its grip on its developer and publisher ecosystem by further cracking down on shady advertising techniques. In the previous major update, light was cast upon advertising carried through changes made to the device outside of the original app, such as icon drops, shortcut creation or system-level push notifications.With the latest update, Google targets the following additional points:

  • Promotion via deceptive ads on websites, apps or other properties, including simulated system, service, or app notifications or alerts (close to what was already enforced)
  • Promotion or install tactics which cause redirection to Google Play or the download of the app without informed user action. (so-called “redirects”)
  • Unsolicited promotion via SMS services.

Then, another change comes right in line with our recent article on Free-to-Play regulation and the guidelines published recently by the British Office of Fair Trading:

  • If your product description on Google Play refers to in-app features to which a specific or additional charge applies, your description must clearly notify users that payment is required to access those features.

From a consumer perspective, this guideline is very sensible. However, the next logical step for Google would be to display a list of in-app purchase items with their respective costs on the Play Store page, as is already the case for the Apple App Store.Finally, Google specified the context in which advertising can be placed within apps:

  • Ads must not simulate or impersonate the user interface of any app, or notification and warning elements of an operating system. It must be clear to the user which app each ad is associated with or implemented in.

As many commentators rightfully noted, this point strengthens the prohibition to use system-level mechanisms for advertising (already mentioned above).There is however an additional element within the paragraph: “Ads must not simulate or impersonate the user interface of any app”. Mobyaffiliates singled out the possibility for this amendment to have an impact on native mobile ads. The general purpose of native advertising is indeed to appear as seamless as possible within an app’s user interface.While this observation is relevant in light of Google’s latest policy update, we do not believe that this specific guideline is likely to cause a fundamental problem for native ads.First, and although it is no proof as such, Google pioneered online native advertising with search ads and is therefore in a good position to understand the value it brings for both publishers and users.Then, we believe native ads will stay clear of any criticisms that they might cause confusion for users at the condition that they “say their name” in order to be differentiated from the actual content of the app.In this regard, the Internet Advertising Bureau published a “Native Advertising Playbook”, in which they recommend specific terms of disclosure for various types of native ad units.Here is for example the recommended disclosure language for in-feed ads:

“Commonly used disclosure language for in-feed ads includes: “Advertisement” or “AD“ (Google, YouTube), “Promoted” or “Promoted by [brand]” (Twitter, Sharethrough), “Sponsored” or “Sponsored by [brand]” or “Sponsored Content” (LinkedIn, Yahoo), “Presented by [brand]” + “Featured Partner” tag (BuzzFeed, Huffington Post), and “Suggested Post” + a “Sponsored” tag (Facebook).”

Google and Facebook disclose search and in-feed ads with, respectively, the terms “Ad” and “Sponsored”:

ex1   ex2       

With the mobile advertising industry maturing, there is a strong need to foster trust and transparency among all parties and separate the wheat from the chaff. Spammy and confusing techniques, such as system-level push notifications or app store redirects generate a terrible user experience and need to stop. In this sense, Google’s policy update goes in the right direction. Native ads however, if properly disclosed, currently represent the most user-friendly form of mobile advertising and should be embraced as such.