Google's address policy is just the beginning for app developers

Shane Schick

There are still some small businesses--admittedly, very, very small businesses--that still don't have a website. Unless it's a convenience store or something so mom-and-pop that you get to know the owners really well, it's hard not to think of such firms as fly-by-night. The same thing applies to app developers with no visible means of contact, which explains why Google is cracking down with an unpopular new policy.

As reported by Phandroid and others, Google recently notified developers that paid apps and mobile games using in-app purchases (IAPs) may be banned from Google Play if they don't provide a physical mailing address. Perhaps naturally, there is outrage on Reddit, where developers have been arguing about whether the move constitutes a potential breach of their personal privacy.

The issue is complicated because obviously, a great many of those submitting apps to Google Play are probably indie developers who are working from home, which is a lot different than a large publisher with an office location next to other established businesses. Of course, it's not that hard to get a post office box, but that's not going to meet Google's requirements. Some developers probably think creating an app and getting it distributed is as much "setting up shop" as they'll ever need to do. 

Some of the other commentary around this has suggested Google is trying to ensure quality control around the apps that get submitted to its app store. I think it has much more to do with protecting consumers who are increasingly concerned about issues around privacy, the potential abuse of IAPs and more. Sure, most developers have websites, but that's where many of their similarities with so-called "legitimate" businesses end. I'm often surprised how few offer anything more than a generic contact form--not even a proper e-mail address. You'd never get interviewed, let alone hired, for a lot of jobs without your phone number and business e-mail on a resume. Why should consumers (or Google) react any differently to apps and developers? 

One of the best aspects of the app economy has been its relatively low barrier to entry. If you have the right skills, talent and time, almost anyone can create an app or mobile game. Even if Google's latest policy marks an increased expectation for professionalism in the way they present themselves, that openness to the opportunity remains. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if all the app stores begin asking for more detailed information about the large group of people who are supplying a critical piece of what makes their hardware (smartphones and tablets) successful. If apps were something companies ordered the way a restaurant ordered food supplies, you had better believe they would want a proper name, address and phone numbers as a starting point. 

The best recourse for app developers is not to fight such policies but embrace them. Be the firm--even if it's still a one-person firm--that not only creates great apps but also acts like a major publisher. Developers have always known they could make the jump from hobbyists to real entrepreneurs. It's time they started looking like them.--Shane