Will Google Really Block Ad-Hiding VPNs on Android?

Is your favorite VPN app in danger of being banned from the Play Store due to its ad blocking feature? Although a change in Google policy suggests this, the situation must be qualified.

Google is blocking some apps that hide advertising on Android. At least that’s what changes to the Play Store’s terms of use that will take effect from November 1, 2022. More specifically, it’s VPNs that block ads that are targeted.

DuckDuckGo, ProtonVPN and the others threatened?

Announced last month, changes to the Play Store’s welcome policy state in black and white that a VPN provider has a presence in the Android App Store”cannot use its service to manipulate ads that affect the monetization of certain appsThe change is presented as a way to protect internet users’ personal information, which could be misled by VPNs that would repatriate browsing data and trade ad placements for others.

VPNs that block ads on Android are plentiful today. Services such as ProtonVPN or DuckDuckGo integrate this kind of functionality, which filters all internet traffic arriving at the device to block ads, trackers and other malicious software capable of hiding behind a web page. These changes in Google’s policy therefore raise fears of an exclusion of these applications from the Play Store. But the reality is more nuanced.

The panic started from a blog post published by Reda Labdaoui, the marketing manager of Blockada, a software that blocks ads on Android using a VPN. According to the manager, Google will “punish ad filtering and tracking apps” on Android starting November 1. Except… Google already bans apps that block ads on Android. The Google Play Store app publishing guidelines have long stated that “apps that block or interfere with the display of ads from another app” violates the rules of the application store. This did not prevent the above services from being hosted in the Play Store.

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Google technically already prohibits ad blocking

It therefore appears that Google is currently showing some tolerance towards apps that block ads. It is therefore not out of the question that this change in policy will be accompanied by a serious crackdown on these applications in particular, although ProtonVPN, DuckDuckGo and others currently appear to be spared. Even better, contacted by The Register, a spokesperson for DuckDuckGo explained that the company “doesn’t think it will be affected by this change in policy, although teams continue to dig into the topic“. In fact, it may be that the future development only concerns applications that filter advertisements using a VPN profile installed locally on the phone.

Many applications, including version 6 of Blockada, which Reda Labdaoui conveniently highlights in his blog post, offer ad blocking on Android thanks to filtering done by the VPN server and not by the phone or tablet in question. This upstream filtering is almost impossible for Google to block, as the process takes place on servers that do not belong to the company. It is certainly possible that Google will start censoring any application suspected of blocking advertisements in this way, but in advance none of the companies that publish this type of application have yet shouted out loud… which suggests , that there is no panic on board yet.

And should Google happen to apply its new content hosting policy with particular zeal, there are plenty of other app stores on Android that would no doubt be happy to accept apps that have been dropped outside of the Play Store. In particular, we are thinking of F-Droid, the store of free applications that competes with the Play Store.

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