A Developer’s First-Time Journey Through Google Play Store Publishing

Introduction

As a first-time Google Play Store publisher, I embarked on a journey to publish my app “AI Image Describe” which is a free Android app that is powered by the OpenAI GPT-4 API to get descriptions of images (screenshots, graphics or photos).

* Explain a meme.
* Explain a data visualization.
* Extract data from table.
* Describe a photo.

The app is created for use by people who have an OpenAI API account and uses an OpenAI API key. I created it for my own use and thought other people like me would find it useful. It is a relatively simple app and made a good candidate as my first Google Play Store app. It turned out that publishing it took more effort and time than developing the app itself.

Read more about AI Image Describe here.

Create New Google Play Store Developer Account

I created a corporate Google Play Store Developer account using my Canadian corporation. This required getting a US DUNS number which takes time and includes some background checking by Dun & Bradstreet.

Google Play Store Developer corporate accounts can bypass more rigorous testing required by individual developer accounts. (As it turns out I should have been more diligent about testing, and will be diligent in the future. Read more below).

This Google Play Store experience proved to be far more complex and challenging than anticipated. Here’s a detailed account of the challenges I faced and the lessons I learned, which I hope will help other developers navigate their first time publishing an app to the Google Play Store.


The Long Wait: Initial Submission and Review

My journey began with what seemed like a simple submission, but quickly turned into a test of patience.

  • Initial submission date: March 25, 2024
  • Expected review time: Less than 10 days (based on common experiences)
  • Actual response received: May 14, 2024 (nearly two months later)

During this period:

  • I made multiple follow-ups with the support team
  • Responses generally advised patience
  • The extended wait caused significant frustration and uncertainty

Key takeaway:

  • Be prepared for potentially long review times, especially as a new developer, and first time app submission.

First Major Hurdle: Deceptive Behavior Policy Violation

Date: May 14, 2024

After the long wait for a response to my review submission, I encountered my first significant challenge.

Issue:

  • Violation of Misleading Claims of  Deceptive Behavior Policy
  • Reason: Inconsistencies between app icon/title in store listing and within the app. It also seemed they didn’t believe the app could do what it claimed eg get descriptions from images. However, based on the issue identified below it seems plausible that they thought my app title was similar to those of other existing apps.
Publishing Status

App Status: Suspended

Your app has been suspended and removed due to the policy issue(s) listed below.

Issue found: Violation of Deceptive Behavior policy

Your app contains content that doesn’t comply with the Deceptive Behavior policy.

Issue details

We found an issue in the following area(s):

  • Hi-res icon (en-US): Please see attached screenshot HI_RES_ICON-6410.png
  • Title (en-US)“AI Image Describe”
  • In-app experience: Please see attached screenshot IN_APP_EXPERIENCE-1538.png

To bring your app into compliance, follow these steps:

Make sure that the app’s title and description do not misrepresent the function of the app.

About the Deceptive Behavior policy

We don’t allow apps that attempt to deceive users or enable dishonest behavior including but not limited to apps which are determined to be functionally impossible. Apps must provide an accurate disclosure, description and images/video of their functionality in all parts of the metadata. Apps must not attempt to mimic functionality or warnings from the operating system or other apps. Any changes to device settings must be made with the user’s knowledge and consent and be reversible by the user.

Action required: Publish a new compliant version of your app

Initial penalty:

  • App suspension.

Note: in the pantheon of Play Store review outcomes eg rejections, removals, suspensions, and warnings, an app suspension is very severe. An app suspension counts as a strike against the good standing of your Google Play Developer account. If a suspended app was previously published, it forfeit the users, statistics, and ratings of the removed application. Multiple suspensions or suspensions for egregious policy violations may also result in the termination of your Play Console account. Read more here.

Appealed penalty:

  • After appealing they penalty was changed from the very severe app suspension to much less severe app rejection and removal.
  • Highlighted that I am first time Google Play Store developer and that this was just poor quality control on my part, not malicious deception, and that a suspension was too severe and not warranted.
  • Asked for clarification if they had actually tested the app because it could do what it claimed eg get descriptions of images. I noted that the app had similar functionality to OpenAI ChatGPT (this probably contributed to the next challenge!)
  • Asked for clarification if the issue was related to title being similar to other existing apps.

Resolution:

  • Successful appeal changed very severe app suspension to much less severe app rejection and removal.
  • I ensured consistency between the app title in the app and the store listing so there could be no possible confusion.
  • I did not change the app title so that clearly was not part of the issue.
  • Perhaps questioning if they had actually tested the app dismissed the challenge that the app couldn’t do what it claimed?

Key takeaway:

  • I am still trying to process how these minor inconsistencies initially warranted a suspension which in pantheon of Play store reprimands is serious stuff. I am sure that no users would have been “deceived”. At worst, an observant user might have noted inconsistencies and maybe considered them anomolous but would have carried on using app without concern or issues anyways.
  • Beware, even minor inconsistencies can trigger severe penalties.
  • The initial suspension felt disproportionate to the nature of the violation.
  • It appears that the Google Play Store reviewers need an opportunity to refine and more clearly identify their initial description of issues. Perhaps some of this is automated and even if done by humans it is done quickly as possible. Therefore there is very likely opportunity for clarification and amendment.

Second Challenge: Navigating the Impersonation Policy

Date: June 21, 2024

After submitting an updated release for review to address the Deceptive Behavior Policy Violation issue, the app was rejected a second time in violation of the Impersonation Policy.

Issue:

  • Violation of Impersonation Policy
  • The actual nature of the issue that was in violation of the Impersonation policy evolved over multiple communications with reviewers:
    1. Initial issue – The intial issue was not clear but had something with the app title “AI Image Describe”. Based on this it appeared that the app title might have been similar to other apps.
    2. Revised issue #1 – After following up with reviewers for clarification, the issue identified was revised to the app was impersonating the “CHAT GPT” brand.
    3. Revised issue #2  – After updating the app to address the revised issue #1 by meticulously adhering to the OpenAI branding guidelines for developers using their API, the app was again rejected again. The issues were revised again to indicate that the app store front feature image and description were “suggesting an unclear affiliation with OpenAI”.
Publishing Status

App Status: Rejected

Your app has been rejected and wasn’t published due to the policy issue(s) listed below. If you submitted an update, the previous version of your app is still available on Google Play.

Issue found: Violation of Impersonation policy

Your app’s store listing appears to contain words, phrases, images, or videos you may not have permission to use. Please refer to the “Issue details” below for further information on where we’ve identified this issue in your app’s store listing.

Issue details

We found an issue in the following area(s):

  • Title (en-US)“AI Image Describe “

To bring your app into compliance, follow these steps:

  • If you submitted written documentation regarding your permission to use this content, please wait for a response to your Advance Notice Form submission.

What if I have permission to use the content?

If you have a justification for its use, such as proof that you are authorized to use the content in your app or some other legal justification, submit the verifying documents through the Advance Notice Form.

About the Impersonation policy

We don’t allow apps that mislead users by impersonating someone else (e.g. another developer, company, entity) or another app. Don’t imply that your app is related to or authorized by someone that it isn’t. Be careful not to use app icons, descriptions, titles, or in-app elements that could mislead users about your app’s relationship to someone else or another app.

Action required: Submit an updated app for review

Attempted resolutions:

  • To address the revised issue #1 it seem logical and appropriate to ensure adherence with OpenAI branding guidelines eg using “Powered by OpenAI” badge graphic and text (as recommended by OpenAI, and adding disclaimers about independent development. However, it turned out this was not acceptable.

Final resolution:

  • Removed all OpenAI branding graphics and minimized any text referring to OpenAI. The reviewers would not accept adherence to the OpenAI branding guidelines.
  • Added explicit disclaimers in app and app storefront stating the app is not affiliated with OpenAI.
  • The app was eventually accepted after these changes.

Key takeaway:

  • Guidelines for using third-party branding can be complex and contradictory.
  • Clear disclaimers and removal of potentially misleading elements are crucial.

Third Challenge: Broken Functionality Policy Violation

Date: June 28, 2024

Just when progress seemed imminent, another issue surfaced as finally the reviewers had started examining the app’s actual functionality which didn’t appear to have been done up to this point.

Issue:

Publishing Status

App Status: Rejected

Your app has been rejected and wasn’t published due to the policy issue(s) listed below. If you submitted an update, the previous version of your app is still available on Google Play.

Issue found: Violation of Broken Functionality policy

Your app contains content that isn’t compliant with the Broken Functionality policy.

  • App installs, but doesn’t load

Issue details

We found an issue in the following area(s):

  • Version code 9: In-app experience: Please see attached screenshot IN_APP_EXPERIENCE-1036.png

To bring your app into compliance, follow these steps:

  • Make sure to fix all broken experiences within your app. You can use the Pre-launch reports to check for app stability.

About the Broken Functionality policy

We don’t allow apps that crash, force close, freeze, or otherwise function abnormally. Below are a few examples of common violations:

  • Apps that don’t install
  • Apps that install, but don’t load
  • Apps that load, but are not responsive

You can learn more about our policies by watching this video on tips to help you stay on the right side of Google Play policy.

Visit Google Play’s Academy for App Success to get contextual learning on this Google Play policy.

Action required: Submit an updated app for review

Here’s what to do to help get your app on Google Play:

  1. Make sure to read the applicable policies or requirements listed below:
  2. Make appropriate changes to your app (if possible), and be sure to address the issue described above. You may also want to check your app’s store listing for compliance, if applicable.
  3. Double check that your app is compliant with all other Developer Program Policies.
  4. If you made changes to your app bundle, store listing, or APK, please sign in to your Play Console and submit the update(s).

Resolution:

  • Add new functionality to handle the case where users select an Android folder without images. This is something I should have added as a normal part of app function and at least caught in my testing.
  • Resubmitted the updated app release for review.

Current status:

  • Currently awaiting feedback on the resubmitted app release.

Key takeaway: 

  • Ensure standard app development testing and quality control considering all possible edge cases and user behavior.

Fourth Challenge: Violation of Play Console Requirements

Date: July 4, 2024

This issue indicates that the reviewers were somehow not able to successfully enter the API key provided for their testing purposes, or after entering the API key were unable to successfully figure out what to do next.

This was unexpected as I had provided detailed instructions on how to authenticate on the app in the “App Content” section as well as providing a link to a YouTube video that had a detailed walkthrough of how to use the app.

Issue:

  • Violation of Play Console Requirements
  • Reason: Reviewers need valid login credentials for your app, and any other resources needed to review your app. It was’t clear exactly what the issue is. The only credential required to use the app is the API key that I provided for them in reviewers instructions. They seem to also expect user and password which are not required for this app. They include a screenshot showing the Settings Page with a value in the API key form field. In the reviewers instructions I recommended that they simply copy the API key from instructions and paste it into the app form field. If they incorrectly copy and paste the API key then it could be the reason they cannot use the app. However unlikely, it is also possible that they could have encountered an error after correctly copy and paste the API key into the form field.

 

Publishing Status

App Status: Rejected

Your app has been rejected and wasn’t published due to the policy issue(s) listed below. If you submitted an update, the previous version of your app is still available on Google Play.

Issue found: Violation of Play Console Requirements

 

In order for us to review your app for compliance with Developer Program policies we will need you to provide valid login credentials for your app, and any other resources needed to review your app.

Please note the following requirements when providing login credentials:

  • Your login credentials must be accessible at all times, reusable, and valid regardless of user location.
  • Your login credentials must be maintained at all times without any error.
  • Your login credentials must be provided in English. Please make sure the credentials (ID, password, etc.) that you provide do not include languages other than English.
  • If your app requires you to bypass the login wall with other accounts (“sign in with Google, Facebook”, etc.), please provide all account details with the detailed instructions.
  • If your app requires the users to set up their own password (for example, PIN, etc.), please provide the instructions and upload it on Google Play Console.
  • Please provide all supplements (for example, QR codes, barcodes, etc.) needed in order to bypass the login wall.

In this case:

  • We could not access the in-app content with the login credentials that you have provided.
  • You didn’t provide an active demo/guest account or a valid username and password which we need to access your app.

Issue details

We found an issue in the following area(s):

  • Version code 10: In-app experience: Please see attached screenshot IN_APP_EXPERIENCE-9352.png

To bring your app into compliance, follow these steps:

Please consider following these steps to provide instructions for app access

  1. Read the instructions in this Help Center article.
  2. Go to the App access page.
  3. Update your app access information.
  4. Click Save.
  5. Go to the Publishing overview page.
  6. In the “Changes ready to send for review” section, click Send for review.
  7. Read this Help Center page to learn more about managing when changes are reviewed and published.

Note: The fastest way to resolve this issue and get your app back on Google Play is follow the instructions provided above. If you have already updated valid credentials following the instructions, you do not need to contact our policy support team to provide this information. If you are unable to provide test credentials and instructions or feel our decision may have been in error, please reach out to our policy support team.

About the Play Console Requirements

Before you submit your app for review, you must provide an active demo account, login information, and all other resources needed to review your app (i.e., login credentials, QR code, etc.)

Visit Google Play’s Academy for App Success to get contextual learning on this Google Play policy.

Action required: Submit an updated app for review

Here’s what to do to help get your app on Google Play:

  1. Make sure to read the applicable policies or requirements listed below:
  2. Make appropriate changes to your app (if possible), and be sure to address the issue described above. You may also want to check your app’s store listing for compliance, if applicable.
  3. Double check that your app is compliant with all other Developer Program Policies.
  4. If you made changes to your app bundle, store listing, or APK, please sign in to your Play Console and submit the update(s).

 

Resolution:

  • I sent an appeal asking for clarification. Did they try to use the app after entering the API key and did it work or not?
  • I also double checked the instructions provided to the reviewers and updated to maximize clarity even though they were comprehensive. I reiterated that after entering the API key they can proceed to use the application. I highlighted the availability of a YouTube app walkthrough video.

Current status:

  • Currently awaiting feedback on the resubmitted app release.

Key takeaway: 

  • I have noticed many developers have issues with authentication and credentials for Google review purposes. In the cases of user and password authentication the resolution is to create a dummy Google reviewer test account. In my situation, I provided the API key in the App Content viewer instructions notes along with step by step instuctions.

 


Key Lessons for First Time Google Play Store Developers

This experience described above highlighted several crucial points for new developers:

  1. Expect the unexpected:
    • Review processes can be lengthy and unpredictable.
    • Be prepared for multiple rounds of revisions.
  2. Consistency is key:
    • Ensure all branding, naming, and functionality are consistent across your app and store listing.
    • Even minor discrepancies can trigger severe penalties.
  3. Navigate policy conflicts carefully:
    • Compliance with third-party guidelines (e.g., OpenAI) may not satisfy Google Play policies.
    • When in doubt, prioritize Google Play policies.
  4. Communication is crucial:
    • Be persistent but professional in your communications with the review team.
    • Clearly explain your app’s functionality and your compliance efforts.
  5. Be thorough in testing:
    • Consider all possible scenarios, including edge cases reviewers might encounter.
  6. Stay patient and persistent:
    • The process can be frustrating, but persistence often pays off.
    • Be prepared to make multiple adjustments to your app and listing.
  7. Understand policy implications:
    • Familiarize yourself with all relevant Google Play policies.
    • Be prepared to make significant changes to comply with policies.
  8. Handle branding carefully:
    • Be cautious when using or referencing third-party brands.
    • Use clear disclaimers to avoid any perception of misleading affiliation.

Conclusion

Publishing an app on the Google Play Store for the first time can be a complex and sometimes frustrating process. It involves navigating various policies, potential rejections, and multiple rounds of feedback.

However, by understanding potential pitfalls, maintaining clear communication, and being willing to adapt, new developers can successfully navigate this journey.

Remember, each challenge presents an opportunity to learn and improve your app and your development practices.

My experience highlights the importance of meticulous attention to detail, understanding branding guidelines, and maintaining persistence throughout the process.

Finally, appealing, asking for clarification, and challenging decisions can be helpful. This should be considered as constructive communication rather than conflict.


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