Update 1/28: Since publishing this article, after a week of suspension, Google just emailed us and removed our suspension. We still have many unanswered questions, and we are waiting for the app to be republished to the store. More updates to follow.
Update 1/30: We are still waiting for our app to be re-listed in the store, now waiting two days. We have been told it may take up to 7 days for them to complete a thorough review of our app to make sure it’s safe for users. Note that during this process, our app remains unlisted. We are receiving constant emails from our users asking why they cannot find our app on the store.
Update 1/31: Google has restored our app to the Google Play Store. Reviews intact. No specific reason provided for the suspension and no retraction of the deletion threats for future suspensions.
Update 2/12: Google Cloud Support contacted me by email, said that they did a thorough investigation of my case, and asked us to join a call with them.
Update 2/18: Google Cloud Support call occurred. We were told that if we setup multiple controlling accounts to our Google Cloud account, it would be unlikely that Google Play would/could terminate them all. Sounded like they would not have permission to do that. It was also clarified that “related accounts” meant the admin Google account used for our Google Play Developer account. Conclusion: Do not use the same admin Google account for both Google Play and Google Cloud / GSuite. Threats were clarified, but not retracted. We were also told that we would be given a year of free Google Cloud support.
Part 1: Google Play Suspension
On January 21, 2020 at 1:53AM, without warning, we received a message from Google Play stating that our app (Bitcoin Blast) had been removed and suspended from the store for a “deceptive behavior” policy violation and no further details.
We first launched Bitcoin Blast in May of 2019, and have been in good standing since that time. At the time of suspension, we had almost 1.4 million users and a 4.5 star app rating. Over 100 Youtube videos linked to our game. We had replied to EVERY. SINGLE. REVIEW. (over 20,000 reviews). In an instant, all of that was wiped away. Reviews gone, links broken.
Part 2: Appeal Denied
We appealed, but the appeal was rejected with a vague explanation. Follow-ups from us to Google Play Support have gone ignored. Google is requesting that we resubmit the app under a new name and bundle id losing all our reviews and download stats. Further, we still do not know why we were suspended because they will not tell us, meaning, we have no way of avoiding an additional suspension. Perhaps we have inadvertently violated a policy without realizing it, but our app rating suggests that by and large our app is not deceptive. If we were being deceptive, would that not show up in the reviews? It seems 20,000 reviews each with a written response were not enough to convince Google that our app mattered or that it was actually an OK app with a team that was working hard to make it a good experience. It’s clear that the punishment does not fit the crime. Does Google not want apps like ours to succeed on their store?
More concerning than the email suspension was the threat written in the email, “Additional suspensions of any nature may result in the termination of your developer account, and investigation and possible termination of related Google accounts.” (italics added)
“possible termination of related Google accounts”
We, like most startups, use Google for email, we use Google Drive, and we also happen to use Google Cloud and Firebase for our infrastructure. This means Google basically has threatened to shut down our entire small startup without even telling us why. In a competitive cloud world where most startups use AWS, we decided to give Google a shot.
It is completely unacceptable for Google to threaten to shut down our company infrastructure over a subjective human-based app review, cut us off from all our corporate documents, and even our email. Since we use Google Cloud for all our products, a shut down would turn off our Apple app as well.
Don’t walk, RUN from using Google Cloud
We have been proponents of Google Cloud and evangelists. I run a CTO forum and I have raved of the benefits we’ve received from server-less cloud functions and the linear scaling costs of Firestore. On the technical side it has been a great experience. We had falsely assumed that Google would be rational and reasonable, and we were wrong. If we cannot count on Google to treat us like we matter, then we will be leaving the platform as fast as we can. Certainly cross-department threats to shut down all our accounts are not acceptable. I’ve never heard of Amazon doing this, and further Amazon makes themselves available to us. We have a rep, who sets up calls with implementation engineers just to try to get us on board. It’s day and night from Google. Support and communication should matter a lot in tech platform decisions, and we should have considered this factor more at the start.
Summary Timeline of Events
1/21/2020 — Bitcoin Blast Suspended from Google Play for “Deceptive Behavior” policy violation, threatens to delete all our Google accounts if they find reason to suspend us again
1/21/2020 — Appeal submitted by us to Google
1/22/2020 — Appeal rejected by Google
1/22/2020 — Request for more information from us to Google
1/23/2020 — Google responds, stating they cannot tell us more
1/23/2020 — We follow up again with further clarification
1/28/2020 — After a public outcry on our Twitter with over 600 retweets, we received a message stating that we are no longer suspended. We are currently attempting to republish and asking for clarification as to what happened
1/29/2020 — App status changed to “In Review”
1/30/2020 — We were notified that we are receiving a deep review to make sure our app is safe for users that may take up to seven days. This will not be our first deep review like this, they withheld an update from us last year with the same wording. The first time though, our prior build was still available on the store while the build was being reviewed so it was not a big deal. We are receiving constant emails from our users asking why they cannot find our app on the store.
1/30/2020, 11:28PM — we received an email to notify us that Bitcoin Blast was now live again on the Google Play Store. Threats related to deletion of connected Google accounts were not retracted. No explanation of suspension provided.
2/12/2020, 7:43AM — Google Cloud Support contacted me by email, said that they did a thorough investigation of my case, and asked us to join a call with them.
2/18/2020, 7:00AM — Google Cloud Support call occurred. We were told that if we setup multiple controlling accounts to our Google Cloud account, it would be unlikely that Google Play would terminate them all. Sounded like they would not have permission to do that. It was also clarified that “related accounts” meant the admin Google account used for our Google Play Developer account. Conclusion: Do not use the same Google account for both Google Play and Google Cloud / GSuite. Threats were clarified, but not retracted. We were also told that we would be given a year of free Google Cloud support.