The Monetization Problem: Why the Popular App Store Deletes Open Source Utilities

Open source apps are removed from the Google Play Store where there are links to donation pages for developers. We discuss the reasons and opinions of the IT community.

Photos – Devin Avery – Unsplash

What was deleted and why

In mid-October, the WireGuard open source VPN app disappeared from the Google Play Store. The reason is the link to the donation page for the project. This was the only monetization method that developers used. The authors managed to restore the application in the store, but only after removing the item about fundraising from the menu.

Previously, the developers of andOTP got into a similar situation. This is a 2FA one-time password system. The application on the Google Play Store was restored just the other day. The problem also affected the developers of Manyverse – a decentralized social network using the SSB protocol.

Google’s technical experts explain the blockages because donations cannot be collected using the Google In-App payment mechanism. Through it must pass all the financial transactions of applications. But the service still does not support working with donations.

Community response

Overall, the IT community’s reaction to the news of WireGuard removal was mixed. The main complaint: store policies do not directly prohibit posting links to third-party services for collecting donations (to the same Patreon). Members of the IT community say that Google engineers need to clarify the situation as soon as possible. Otherwise, open source developers will find themselves in a difficult position.

The fact that the IT company does not remove all applications with donation buttons from its store was also criticized. In particular, the site missed the paid version of the Oruxmaps service, but removed its free modification. Although there and there were links for collecting donations.

But there is an opinion that the actions of the IT company are justified. Thus, Google fights against scammers. Otherwise, anyone could place an open source utility in the application store and start collecting donations, supposedly in support of the developers.

It is also likely that the situation with the prohibition of donations to open source projects is temporary. And in the future, Google will implement the corresponding function in In-App Builling. A year ago, the company already allowed donations to charitable and non-profit organizations. For example, a fundraising link is located in the main menu of the Wikipedia application. Deductions are in favor of the non-profit foundation Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), which contains servers and updates free encyclopedia software.

Photos – Roman Kraft – Unsplash

Until such a function is implemented, open-source developers have to look for other ways to monetize. Perhaps nonprofit foundations like Software Freedom Conservancy and Software in the Public Interest might be able to protect open source. They will be able to collect donations in favor of developers on their behalf.

Related use cases

Amazon Smile users were banned from sending donations a month ago. This is a marketplace that transfers 0.5% of each purchase to charities. The IT company has blocked payments from users who turned off alerts in the mobile application. The decision of the corporation caused a wave of indignation in the IT community, as many did not want to grant invasive rights to the application on their mobile devices.

Companies and marketplaces limit not only fundraising, but also their issuance. Three months ago, a new clause appeared in the Google Play rules prohibiting the publication of applications that issue short-term loans (for two months). In the United States, the store blocks applications through which you can take a loan with an interest rate exceeding 36% per annum.

In any case, companies regularly make changes to their policies. Application developers and simple users have to follow the edits and respond to updates.

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