Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

I am glad that the fight between Google and the developers of Terraria appears to have been resolved. However, the effects of the ban on Terraria’s primary developer remind me that not all solo developers realize the potential impacts of distributing apps through the Play Store.

If you are an ordinary person doing ordinary things, it is highly unlikely that Google will have a need to ban your Google account. Saying that you use Google for email and movies and calendars and music and file storage and games and document tools and so on is not completely ridiculous.

Once you decide to distribute your apps through Google, though, that situation changes. Now you are doing something that Google deems risky, and their bot-and-cheap-labor vetting process means that you are at an above-average risk of having your account be banned. And due to the opaque nature of their banning process, it is not safe to assume that you are being banned for any actual violation of any actual terms of service. In the end, they can ban you for any reason they feel like.

So, if you are going to distribute apps through the Play Store, you owe it to yourself to:

  • Stop using as many Google services as is practical, and

  • Aim to isolate your app-distribution Google account(s) from any personal account(s) that you may have

The biggest service by far to get off of is Gmail. Losing access to a movie you bought through Google Play is unfortunate. Losing a chunk of your ability to communicate with the outside world may have a far greater impact. There are plenty of other email providers out there. Gmail has not been “head and shoulders” better than the competition in quite some time. I abandoned Gmail many years ago and have not missed a beat. When I get dragged back into Gmail by a client, my reaction to it is decidedly “meh” — the competition has similar features and capabilities. And the competition is unlikely to ban you because of issues with your app.

Google Drive and Google Docs are the other major areas of risk. Basically, you are giving Google an easy way to hold your data hostage. Use other cloud storage providers. Use other document tools, including (gasp!) ones that run on your own hardware.

For whatever remains, you need to recognize that your access to those Google services could vanish at any point. That’s not even necessarily tied to your apps. For example, back when I “drank the Kool-Aid”, I set up as a business account with Google. Google apparently has no way to reverse that action. After I discontinued my business account, remains incapable of accessing most Google services that have ties to their business services (e.g., Docs, Drive). Life goes on.

One way to help minimize the risk is to keep your personal and “business” Google accounts separate. Even if you have not set up a business for your app and do not think of yourself in business terms, it is best to treat your interactions with Google as if you were running a business. Distribute your apps under a separate Google account. Try to minimize “mixing business with pleasure” by using your personal account for app-related activity. Ideally, Google’s banhammer will have no idea that your personal account has anything to do with this app that they dislike.

Most solo developers will not run into any problems. However, the semi-random nature of Google’s enforcement actions means that even developers that are sure they are doing the right thing might encounter problems. Do yourself a favor and try to minimize the effects of distributing apps through the Play Store… even if all you are doing is writing a puppy adoption app. Google does lots of good things, but not everything that Google does is good for you.

In other words, Google is not your friend.