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Apple App Store and Google Play Guideline Updates 2021

By Nick Epson on October 13, 2021

Every year, both Apple and Google make several notable updates to their guidelines with the intent of improving their platforms – as a business, it’s important to keep on top of Google Play guidelines and Apple App Store guidelines to keep your products in good standing. The idea is to incorporate a variety of collective knowledge amassed over the last year to do things like refine security policies, give their terms and conditions a fresh coat of paint, as well as increase compatibility while deprecating technologies that are no longer useful or safe.

The terms and conditions serve as a contract for Apple and Google with the businesses that use the App Store and Google play platforms to host and distribute their apps. Just as these rules grant rights to users and businesses it also grants Apple and Google the power to ax apps that don’t play fair. In the following, we’re going to cover some of the most notable changes that have come this year and forthcoming updates that will take effect soon.

Apple App Store Guidelines 2021

Perhaps you’re familiar with the battle between Fortnite developer, Epic Games, and Apple? It began when Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store after Epic Games knowingly directed users outside of the app to purchase subscriptions and other content to circumvent paying a 15% to 30% commission for each IAP (in-app purchase) or IAS (in-app subscription.) In light of recent events with a major ruling in favor of Epic Games’ right to do so, keep in mind that neither are available directly on the App Store or Google Play. Though it’s making a statement thriving as an ‘unofficial’ app, replicating this kind of success requires highly specific conditions which aren’t possible to replicate with most apps.

Interestingly, there was a battle with Apple and Netflix over the same matter. Netflix would ultimately gain the privilege to sell subscriptions outside the iOS app with far less mess in the public eye even though it’s cross-platform, just like Fortnite. Apple even threatened to ban the Unreal Engine that powers Fortnite and other popular mobile titles like Mortal Kombat which is now owned by Warner Bros but backed off because that’s a fight they wouldn’t win.

All but a few apps – and most importantly, their users – have been historically best served by living on a first-party store. Fortunately, the rules mostly serve to benefit the end-users and protect them to the best of their ability in a marketplace that strives to be fair. Some of the more notable changes we’ll be seeing are as follows.

Better developer transparency

Apple is taking a major step forward in attempting to thwart certain kinds common of fraud that result in theft. One such way they’re doing this is by providing developer transparency by adding a new section that provides developer information as well as a mechanism to report a problem, suspected fraud, or abuse. With this in place, it will help expose and put a stop to sketchy apps much faster than in the past. This feature is currently implemented in the US, Canada, Australia, as well as New Zealand, and is set to expand to more regions over time.

A crackdown on “hookup” apps

The quote “love is the death of duty” might have originated in fiction but it’s one human condition that’s quite true, whether you like it or not. Crimes involving romance comprise a sizable chunk in the bucket of scams because, well, they work quite well for the scammer. Morals and biases aside, the real problem is that they’re mediums for abuse of workers and “consumers” alike. As there are already problems on more general dating platforms like Tinder with perhaps the most serious issue of all, trafficking, hookup apps will be rejected for the foreseeable future.

Loosened restrictions on cannabis 

At first, Apple and Google were strict on cannabis-related anything as legislation and enforcement around the US has been (and still is) a total mess. But because of the growing momentum in the legal cannabis industry and the dwindling opposition to its legality in governing agencies, Apple has been able to relax its rules regarding legal in-app sales of most products containing THC. So long as certain parameters are in place, such as geolocation to help ensure sales are limited to customers in legal states, businesses can now legally sell most cannabis products through an app. 

Developer tipping

Interestingly, Apple has added a new method for users to directly compensate (i.e., “tip”) developers through the App Store which is an idea they’ve been dabbling with for years now. More than likely, this mechanic should remain as a fairly innocuous feature, so long as it goes unabused at which point, it will likely be revised accordingly.

Mandatory account deletion option

As some businesses choose to cleverly bury options to delete an account, Apple is now requiring that this option be available for every user account from within the app. All apps must comply by January 31st, 2022, or face removal from the store. If you’ve ever jumped through hoops to cancel a gym membership or really, any service that really wants your money, you’ll see this is a big win for users.

More improvements to StoreKit 2

At its core, StoreKit is a set of tools for building payment processing functions into an iOS app. The StoreKit 2 framework update provides a major overhaul that improves transactional efficiency and operability with a more robust API for payment processing. StoreKit 2 brings several changes and adds a handful of new features but most importantly are new tools that developers can use to easily gain deeper insights into their transactions. For example, developers can now analyze the history of all in-app purchases for an app, easily determine user entitlement for certain offers with simple checking tools, and more.

Google Play Guidelines 2021

Google doesn’t call attention to its effort to combat fraud and abuse quite the same way as Apple but that doesn’t mean they’re any less (or more) dedicated to keeping riff-raff at bay. You can always find the most current Google Play guidelines and compliance deadlines by visiting the Developer Policy Center. Some of the more notable updates we’ve seen or will be seeing with Google are as follows:

Version compliance mandates targeting API level 30

One such way that Google helps ensure that the apps it hosts are taking advantage of the most current tools and technologies is by requiring apps to target the more current API (or SDK) versions: in this case, it’s API 30 or that of Android 11. This helps prevent apps from using deprecated technologies that present significant security vulnerabilities. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take advantage of every new feature available but it does mean that you may have to make adjustments if you’re relying on some method that’s been scrubbed or will be in short order.

New app set ID to link apps on a device

Some developers will launch multiple apps but it’s historically been a murky process of understanding user behavior on a single device because of security concerns among other reasons. The new app set ID is a feature that will be available to developers to associate apps downloaded from Google Play and running on a single device by producing an ID that “links” them together. To spin Google’s example, this essentially means that if one user downloaded two or more apps you’ve published under the same developer, they’ll share a single ID. One important thing to note is that this cannot be used for advertising purposes like Apple’s now-defunct IDFA or Google’s AdID.

Apps for children and families

Google is taking a stance to better help protect children through the Designed for Children program. Developers will need to opt into this program when their product specifically targets children. While it doesn’t explicitly state what will happen for those who attempt to or succeed at a workaround, we can assume that it’s a swift removal from Google Play until compliance is met.

All code, including that run at runtime, must meet guidelines

Apps have been required to adhere to policies and Google Play guidelines for core app quality however, this is being tightened to include interpretive languages like JavaScript that load at runtime. All runtime app code, including that from any third-party service, is now subject to these guidelines to prevent possible exploits from vulnerable code.

Updates to inappropriate content policies

Google will be putting a stop to apps specifically designed for “sugar dating” in an effort of a similar vein to that of Apple’s stance against hookup apps. The reason is the same as above: these platforms tend to be abused

Apps must use Billing Library 3

The Google Play Billing Library sets forth provisions and rules for using the Google Play billing system. The Billing Library 3 system deprecates several technologies that were previously used such as parameters used for billing in child-targeted apps in favor of tools that are now part of the Designed for Children program.

Further reading on App Store and Google Play guideline updates

Outside of major OS updates, such as the recent iOS 15 release, Apple makes other significant changes throughout any given year. To keep up to date, make to regularly visit Apple Developer News and Updates for more information.

As with iOS, all information regarding Android updates released during any given year is regularly published in the Google Play Policy Center – for a more comprehensive list of changes, check out this page and be sure to visit it regularly to keep informed.

We build around policies to keep apps performing at peak performance

Ongoing development and adjusting to changes is a major part of app ownership throughout every part of its lifecycle. We plan around these changes to ensure the products we build for the Apple App Store and Google Play meet compliance to keep users and businesses safe. To discuss your idea for an app or to learn more, get in touch!