Mobile

PrankDial: A small developer’s struggle with the Android Market

Since entering the Android market in February 2010, PrankDial quickly became a top-performing app with 4 million downloads and 1 million monthly active users. Out of the millions of apps in the Android market, we ranked in the top 100 as an overall app and top 25 in the entertainment category.

An app which lets you send hilarious pre-recorded pranks to your friends and record their reactions-what’s there not to love? Well, Google felt differently.  In October 2011, they removed PrankDial from the Android Market. Their email read:

This is a notification that the application, PRANKDIAL, has been removed from Android Market due to a violation of the Developer Content Policy.  Please review the Content Policies, Developer Distribution Agreement, and Business and Program Policies before you create or upload additional applications. If your developer account is still in good standing, and the nature of your application allows for it, please make any necessary revisions and upload a new version that is compliant with the above Terms.

So we reviewed the Developer Content Policy which stated that applications should not contain illegal content, invade personal privacy, interfere the functioning of any services of other parties, promote hate, violate intellectual property rights, or promote pornography. That seemed straightforward, but we were still unclear as to which aspect(s) of our app violated which specific policy, so we immediately responded asking for clarification while noting that we would be happy to amend the app based on their feedback.

Instead of giving us any feedback, Android replied the next day with this canned message:

We appreciate the opportunity to review your appeal regarding the suspension of your application from Android Market. After an investigation, we affirm our initial decision and will not be reinstating your application at this time.

Now, clearly there was a miscommunication here. We never appealed their decision to suspend our application; we were merely looking for feedback. To make matters worse, at this point, Android also banned our developer account so that we were no longer allowed to make any changes to the app or resubmit it for approval. To this day, we have no idea why.

At this point we sent several messages looking for clarification and asked them to reinstate our developer account, only to be met with canned, generic responses that failed to address even our most basic questions. Finally, three weeks later, they sent this:

Android Market does not allow applications which spoof their identity, including but not limited to caller ID. In addition to this, it violates Federal Law (please reference the “Caller ID Act of 2010″), as well as most carrier network user agreements. This is before we also weigh the ramifications of recording phone conversations without consent.

We were thrilled that we finally knew which features they considered to be in breach of their policies. We promptly responded addressing their concerns as some of their assumptions about PrankDial were not 100% accurate:

1. Caller ID spoofing does not violate Federal Law. The Truth in Caller ID act prohibits “the transmission of misleading or inaccurate Caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.” Using our product for such purposes is against our Terms of Service and since all PrankDial pranks are pre-recorded, the user has no control over the content of the messages, making it nearly impossible to use the application for harmful purposes.

2.  In terms of recording calls without consent, most states allow for recording of calls if at least one party consents to it. We consider the person initiating the call to be the consenting party. It is in violation of our Terms of Service to record calls in states that require consent of all parties. We monitor this by asking the user to verify they are not sending calls to those states before we allow recording.

We also specified to Android that if either of these features still posed a problem, we were prepared to remove them from the application. And if Android truly had a problem with the act of prank calling, we were prepared to have a version of the app in the market which allowed for connectivity to mobile web to send pranks. This is the response we received:

Thank you for your reply. While we appreciate the reply, we will not be reinstating your applications nor your developer account at this time.

And that was that. Our repeated efforts to communicate with Android have proved fruitless and their email system continues to only give us generic responses of rejection.

Our frustration with Android comes from initially not being given proper feedback to be able to modify our app to meet their standards, having our developer account banned for no valid reason and not being able to resubmit our app for approval once we were given the necessary feedback.  It is clear from our experience and the experience of many others in the developer community that Android’s lack of due process, transparency and communication is cause for disappointment.

PrankDial is a fun and harmless product, which garnered a huge following. Small developers like us would like to continue to contribute to the success of the Android market. All we’re asking for is a little bit of cooperation.

Ruby Saleh is the director of Business Development at TapFury, the makers of PrankDial.


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