3 year old Google Play app suspended for updating interface?

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Update: Google has reversed their decision, however provided no explanation or apology for the original suspension. The suspension also led to forced removal of the app from over a thousand phones and over a month setback on development time.

Our three year old Android app appears to have been suspended for updating it’s user interface, and increasing it’s transparency to users.

Back nearly three years ago we released Who Called Me for Android. At the time, our simple app would monitor your incoming calls and tell you if they were listed on Reverse Australia as being spam. Simple and effective.

At the time we didn’t put a lot of resources into development, so the app didn’t do much more than that. Fast forward to 2014, we decided to rewrite the app, partly to improve the interface, and partly to give it new features that would benefit the end user.

The biggest feature improvement was to screen calls as they were coming in, by showing an overlay on the call screen. So what did we do wrong?

REASON FOR REMOVAL: Violation of section 4.3 of the Developer Distribution Agreement.

Please refer to the policy help article for more information.
We classify a user’s incoming and outgoing call and message history as private and confidential information. Apps which upload a user’s call or message history to a service without making this clear to the user and obtaining the user’s explicit consent are regarded as being in violation of section 4.3 of the DDA.

So what are we transmitting to our servers? Here is a log of one users session, with API keys, IP’s and numbers looked up blurred out:

whocalledme

As you can see, NO personal information is being unreasonably sent to our servers. The first call registers the user with our service so they can get an API key, and then the following requests do a spam lookup on the incoming numbers, so they can tell if they are spam. These API’s are even publicly documented here. An app called “Who Called Me” is obviously going to need to do searches on your incoming call and SMS information, how else would it function?

whocalledmetnc To add insult to injury, part of our on-boarding process was to ask permission to use your address book information for future spam detection. But the current builds don’t even make use of this requested extra permission. Google suspended our app for updating our interface and being more transparent to our users.

Our competitors, such as Mr Number, True Caller, Call Finder and Fetch That Number, all do the same thing as us, yet they are not banned. Fetch That Number and Call Finder even relies on our API to function.

Has Google stopped using engineers to investigate policy issues? Is common sense being outsourced?

For those interested, here was our app description, including permission breakdown:

Introducing Who Called Me 2.0 by Reverse Australia.

With over 250 million records in its database, Reverse Australia is the top reverse look-up service for mobile and land lines within Australia. Check out our website to get to know how we get the latest caller information from risky numbers through our crowd generated number database.

And now, with Who Called Me? 2.0, we’ve rewritten our android app to include new and enhanced features to protect our users from risky callers.

Caller ID
Get caller information every time you get a call from an unknown number and protect yourself from predators, telemarketers, and scam artists.

Block Call & SMS Notifications
Enable our auto-block feature and never be bothered by telemarketers and ads again!

SMS & Call Log Integration
We use our own algorithm to scan your call and sms logs for spam callers & messages

Contact Integration
With our enhanced contact integration, you will only get notifications from unknown numbers. Install the app and forget about it! But when that unknown caller comes, we’ll be there to keep you safe!

SMS & Call Log History
Target numbers individually and review message and call history in order to get the latest tricks from suspected scam artists. Messages stored in our app can be easily shown to the police. Protect not only yourself but also the people around you!

Customize
Are you a power user? Unknown callers are telemarketers 100% of the time? Don’t want calls from private numbers? Customize our app easily using Light, Moderate, or Strict settings. Change it to your liking, adjust security levels to your preferences and more!

So many permissions! What are they for?

TO PROTECT YOU!

Permissions Breakdown:

READ_PHONE_STATE – This lets us display caller information everytime an unknown number starts calling you

READ_CONTACTS – This lets us lookup your contacts in order to know if a calling number already exists in your contacts

READ_CALL_LOG – Using our own algorithm, we hunt down possible spam callers from your call log

MODIFY_PHONE_STATE – This lets us block phone calls

RECEIVE_SMS – This lets us read and detect incoming spam sms messages

READ_SMS – Using our own algorithm, we hunt down possible spam sms from your existing sms messages

INTERNET – This lets us connect to our servers in order for us to look up a caller’s spam risk score

ACCESS_NETWORK_STATE – This lets us check if internet is available on your device

CHECK_LICENSE – This lets us automatically register you in our servers, no need to login!

SYSTEM_ALERT_WINDOW – This lets us display an overlay screen everytime an unknown call arrives

ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION & ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION – These let us lookup your current location, letting us complete the required number from an incoming call. 564867 -> 0256487 if you’re in NSW

WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE – This lets us save spam calls and other information in your phone’s SD card

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