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Google gets strict on Play Store app subscription stings

Google’s Play Store is tightening the rules around app subscriptions. The move is designed to force Android developers to be clearer about the details of their app subscriptions so customers can avoid surprises and instead be fully aware of what they’re signing up for.

You’d think it’d be simple enough for a developer to create a clear process for an app subscription, but whether through fault or design, it can sometimes leave customers confused — as well as annoyed if unexpected payments are billed following the end of a free trial.

In an online post this week announcing the update to its subscription policy, Google Play product manager Angela Ying said the changes will help ensure that developers clarify an app’s subscription offer, the terms of a free trial and introductory offer, and how to manage the subscription, including cancellation.

The new rules insist that a number of conditions are met, for example, developers should make clear whether a subscription is needed to use all or part of the app. If a subscription is not required to use the app, the customer should be able to easily dismiss the offer of a subscription.

For free trials and introductory offers, the app should clearly state how long it will last, the price, and what is included with the free trial or offer. It should also make clear when a free trial converts to a paid subscription and, importantly, how to cancel if the customer prefers not to convert to a paid subscription. The precise cost and billing cycle should also be made clear prior to purchase.

Developers have until June 16, 2020 to bring their existing apps into compliance with the new policy, Ying said.

In other measures designed to increase customer trust when it comes to subscriptions, Ying said her team had made a number of platform-level product changes.

These include improvements to the checkout cart to increase transparency, sending emails to customers to remind them that their free trial or introductory offer is about to end, and, for those subscribed to a 3-month, 6-month, or annual plan, an email reminder of an upcoming renewal.

It will also notify active subscribers who uninstall the app that the action does not automatically unsubscribe them from the service.

The policy update is the latest effort by Google to knock its Play Store into shape. Other recent efforts include the removal of 600 apps that seemed more interested in serving disruptive pop-up ads than providing a decent experience for the customer. The company has also highlighted how it is constantly developing tools designed to purge its online store of deceptive apps.

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