Google Play mistakenly bans app over standard file format name

JC Torres - Jan 26, 2021, 9:07pm CST
Google Play mistakenly bans app over standard file format name

Google Play Store boasts of thousands of apps that would take a large army of humans to review and scrutinize. Of course, that’s exactly why there are thousands of apps on Google Play Store, as Google relies instead on AI-powered bots to crawl through these apps, sniffing for policy violations. While highly efficient, these bots are hardly infallible and one recent incident adds to the list of anecdotes showing that this system might not exactly be working in developers’ favor.

The incident involving the Just (Video) Player app would almost be comical if the implications weren’t actually that serious. The app was suddenly suspended from the Play Store for violating policies against “Sexual Content and Profanity”. It then cites the offending line in the app’s description, the line that says it supports subtitle formats such as “SRT, SSA, ASS, TTML, VTT”.

One will easily single out the word “ASS” in that list which is probably what triggered the bot to kick the app out instantly. As Ars Technica points out, the app was simply an unfortunate victim of history, where “ASS” was chosen, perhaps unwisely, to refer to the Advanced SubStation Alpha subtitle format. Although not as widespread as the common SRT, this format is widely used in anime and has become a bit of a de facto standard in that market.

Google did restore the app after an appeal but it highlights the stressful and non-ideal process smaller developers have to go through with the current system. In addition to indiscriminately banning apps for sometimes absurd reasons that humans would have never thought of, the automated system is also reported to be vague or inaccurate in pointing out the actual cause of offense. To add insult to injury, developers that don’t have big companies behind them have to jump through hoops to actually get hold of any human reviewer, unless the incident makes big headlines enough to catch Google’s attention.

Apple is often criticized for the iron grip that it has on its App Store and its review process but incidents like these do sometimes show the benefits of a human-driven vetting process. Apple has also recently opened the doors for developers to appeal and even question those policies, something that’s arguably almost impossible to accomplish when dealing with a bot.


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