Google will start prohibiting Android VPN apps in its Play store from interfering with or blocking advertising, a change that may pose problems for some privacy applications.
This updated Google Play policy, announced last month, will take effect on November 1, stating only apps using the Android VPNService base class, and that function primarily as VPNs, can open a secure device-level tunnel to a remote service.
This intended to deter data-grabbing VPN services, such as Facebook’s discontinued Onavo, and to prevent ad fraud. Developers must declare the use of VPNservice in their apps’ Google Play listing, must encrypt data from the device to the VPN endpoint, and must comply with Developer Program Policies, particularly those related to ad fraud, permissions, and malware.
For an instance, DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser for Android, which creates a local VPN service to make its App Tracking Protection block tracker server connections, as a potential casualty of the new Play policy.
Google’s policy is not unique. Apple’s iOS App Store includes a similar requirement to use a specific VPN API, named NEVPNManager, which is available only to developers who are part of an organization, not unaffiliated individual developers.
Though Apple’s VPN rules do not specifically address interfering with ads, but the iOS guidelines leave enough room for interpretation that Apple could ban an iOS app that interferes with the functioning of other apps, were it so inclined.
Google for years has disallowed Android apps that block ads in other Android apps and its Chrome Web Store includes language that could be used to ban ad blocking extensions if Google chose to do so.
Google has maintained that it wants to let developers create safer and more performant ad blockers, even as its pending Manifest v3 transition looks likely to make such extensions less capable.