Google Play Bans Video App For Default “.ass” Subtitle Support | GeekComparison

Google's app review robots are beyond reason, they have no pity...
enlarge / Google’s app review robots are beyond reason, they have no pity…

Carolco Pictures

Google Play’s crazy automated app review process strikes again.

This time around, the puritan robot overlords running the Play Store have briefly decided that offering support for common subtitle files is enough to get your app banned. The developer of Just (Video) Player posted his story to Hacker News, writing in the app’s bug tracker: “After a minor, unrelated description update, Just Player was suspended from the Google Play Store for”Sexual Content and Profanity PolicyGoogle finds issues with the following: Full Description (en_US): “* Subtitles: SRT, SSA, ASS, TTML, VTT.””

Yes, just mentioning basic video player features such as support for the subtitle format “ASS” was apparently enough to earn a temporary suspension. The developer says they “applied an immediate appeal” and today the app is back again with the ASD subtitles still in the description.

We ended up with an “.ass” file type thanks to the anime subtitle community. Not satisfied with the standard SRT files, the community came up with the subtitle editor “Sub Station Alpha” and two file types. The first three versions all used a namesake “.ssa” file type, and then version four and above were made”Advanced Sub Station Alpha” files, or “.ass.” Although the editor is software aside, the .ass file type lives on, and compared to SRT, you get advanced features like subtitle styling, accurate subtitle placement, and karaoke-like images are supported by most good video players, including VLC and Google’s own Android video player library, Exoplayer.

It’s good that Google has reinstated the app, but it’s crazy that there was a suspension in the first place, and this is just another story in the unstable relationship developers have with Google’s automated app review process.

The robot rulers of the Google Play Store

Google has been criticized by developers for its lack of human involvement in the app review process, with the Play Store instead opting for automated scanning of apps for viruses, policy violations, and other banned violations. Saying that Google’s app review bots “ban first and ask questions later” would actually be an improvement over the current situation, as the bots can’t ask questions. Ban the bots, send an automated email, and it’s up to the developers to find out why they were banned and jump through hoops to make the bots happy, often without being able to talk to a human.

Google and Apple both collect a percentage of app sales, which the companies categorize as a necessary tax that pays for the infrastructure of the retail ecosystem. Apple uses this money, in part, to hire an army of human app reviewers, a system Google Play developers often cite as an example for Google to follow. Instead, Google only has this bot system — or at best, an extremely small team of manual reviewers — and developers often complain that they’re at the mercy of an illogical bot, with no human to talk to, even during an appeals process.

Google's email forbids Just Player.

Google’s email forbids Just Player.

moneytoo / Github

Google Play app developer Magic Frame Studios echoes many of the common complaints in a blog post, saying: “We are working to develop applications for an unfair system run by Bots who simply treat us like garbage. We fight against unfair bans , unfairly closed accounts and you can never learn from your mistake to have a better application.” The developer says that if your app gets banned, “no one clearly tells you why your app was banned, and if no one clearly tells you what the problem is with your app, how can you fix it? You just can’t.”

Google’s bots have had a particular problem with apps that display web content, often banning browsers, Reddit apps, or forum apps for things like nudity or hate speech, because those are both things that exist on the web.

Google’s apps are all immune to these illogical bans, and bigger companies like Facebook undoubtedly have access to better support than the average developer would get. The people most affected by Google’s app enforcement bots are small indie developers, who can take their entire income because of a bot flaw. Google wants developers to build a business and a living on Google Play, but being such an unstable, illogical platform is a tough way to run a business.

Leave a Comment