How Google is forcing us to make our open source app worse

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Mark Vletter

20 Oct 2022
Clock 3 min

With the Voys App you can easily call anywhere with your business phone number via your mobile. The app is therefore frequently used by our customers. As some of you may have noticed, we haven’t released any updates to the Android version of the app for a few weeks now. The reason is that Google does not allow this. Since this also affects the performance of the app, I want to share this (frustrating) situation with you.

We use your contacts so you can call them

The Voys App is a so-called dialer app and for that we need access to your contacts. Because Voys is a very privacy-conscious company, we do not do anything with the contacts. They stay on your phone, we don’t upload them, we only use them for the app.

We ask users for permission to use the contacts in the app, which you all do: after all, calling your contacts is why we developed the app. We also state in the onboarding for new users that we keep your private information private.

Google ‘thinks things’ instead of looking at the code

That sounds logical, you might say. But Google has somehow decided that we upload the contacts without reporting it. We have raised this with them and explained that this is absolutely not the case. We have appealed it, but they won’t listen.

In an attempt to get our app approved again, we’ve removed some elements that actually improve the app’s performance:

  • A feature that caches contacts to a local file and avatars to local files, which gave the app a huge performance bump in v7.8.0
  • An improvement where we moved this caching process to Android native code in v7.10.0.

With the removal of these features, not only did the app perform less well, but Google still continued to reject the app.

Sending in a demo app to show Google how the code works was also unsuccessful. Note that we’re talking about an app that uses open-source libs, so anyone in the world can see our code, including Google.

We are now decrypting network traffic to show that we are not doing anything with the contacts, something they can just see in the code!

Google: we’re removing your app from the store

All of our efforts have only led to frustration. To make matters worse, Google has threatened to remove our app from the app store completely!

We have learned that Google Play rejection is often arbitrary and getting to the bottom of the issue with a real human being on Google’s end is next to impossible once you fall into a bot response loop.

We’re not the only ones with this problem.

Have a look at the code

We have developed several libraries that allow other companies to build their own app iOS and Android apps as well. These were already open source. We have now made the entire app open source. For the nerds: yes, we have a Responsible Disclosure programme.

Our last attempt to save the app

What options are still there? We’re now preparing to tell Google that we’ll upload contacts — something we definitely don’t — just to keep our app in the store. A bizarre solution – if it works at all.

Dear Google. We are one of the most privacy-conscious companies you can find. We even sue governments to protect the privacy of our users. Stop forcing us to say things we don’t want to say and do things we don’t want to do. Things that make the app significantly worse for the users. We can and will do better for our customers!

Good to know

Even if the Voys App is removed from the Play Store, your downloaded app will continue to work. If you have any further questions in regard to this developing situation, don’t hesitate to contact us.