If you have ever developed applications on Google Play, your Play Console will probably look something like this:
Apps you published in high school, apps that were discontinued due to low usage, or apps that stopped working, due to things like API discontinuation from 3rd parties.
The problem with this is that you cannot actually delete your app from the Play Console. Ever.
Over on the other side
On iOS, Apple actually lets developers delete their apps. And it’s not even a very complicated process! You simply go on to the app listing, click the dropdown, and select “Delete App.”
Apple also allows you to simply de-list your app just like Google Play, should you wish to prevent new sales but still support old users.
So it’s not an impossibility - it’s just that Google has arbitrarily decided no apps can ever be deleted because there is a possibility of abuse or some other reason that they haven’t disclosed.
Deleting paid apps
I think an argument for keeping apps can be made because some unethical developers may create a paid app that users enjoy and then one day yank the app from the listing, screwing over the users that paid for the app. OK, that’s fair, but what about free apps?
Most free apps come without any sort of warranty. There is no contract between you and the developer that states the developer must support this app in perpetuity. That would be insane, because that means the developer will have to keep updating the app forever without any financial incentive! So if the app stops working, or if the developer thinks the app does not live up to the developer’s standard, then the developer should have the rights to remove the app from the store.
Criteria for removal
I think the following criteria for removing apps is a good start:
- Your app is a free app that is no longer working properly.
- A service or backend associated with your app is no longer available, and as a result your app no longer functions.
- Your app has been superseded by a new app.
For paid apps, I think Google can review requests on a case-by-case basis and determine whether the request is legitimate or not. For example, if you had a 3rd party client for Google Plus and it’s now no longer working due to Google killing off Google Plus, then I think it’s fair for the request to be granted and the app removed.
Why delete apps?
Now some people might be asking “Why do you want to delete your apps? Just leave them. It’s not a big problem and they only take up a small part on your screen!”
Well, some apps do become a problem. A year ago, there was a post on Reddit where Google asked the developer to update all apps on their account, whether they were published or not. In the comments section, there is a comment that mirrors exactly what I’m saying: Google would not let developers delete accounts, while forcing them to maintain those applications forever.
In another case, a developer couldn’t remove an application that had a security vulnerability, due to the limitations in Google’s policy. This would impact not only the developer but the users as well, as the app now has a security vulnerability that can be exploited by hackers.
And what if you can’t update the apps? What if you have lost the source code and can no longer create new releases? Should you be expected to reverse-engineer the app and then create an update? What if you have lost the signing certificates? What if it is cryptographically impossible to release updates? Should you be expected to throw supercomputers at the problem as a developer to try and crack the signing certificate?
Worse yet, what if you want to convey to users that your app is now deprecated? You can’t do that, as shipping an app with a deprecated message can be considered as a violation of policy, as the app will no longer have any functionality.
In short, Google’s crazy policy is creating an endless loop for developers that force them to update their old creations, whether they want to or not, even if updating the app is impossible in the first place due to things like losing source code or signing certificates.
Google, please let us delete our apps. Both for our and our users’ sake. Nobody wants an app that doesn’t work anymore, and nobody certainly wants an app that has a security vulnerability that cannot be updated.
Thanks for reading! If you liked what you read, please consider sharing this post so that others can find it too (and hopefully someone at Google finally changes course and fixes the policy of deleting apps).