Starting November 2022, Google will prohibit VPN apps from the Google Play Store from blocking ads or interfering with ad serving. Google’s updated policy states that apps can’t be “manipulated by ads that could affect the monetization of [other] apps.”
According to the updated document, effective November 1, 2022, only applications that use the VPNService base class and function primarily as a VPN can open a device-level secure tunnel. At the same time, it is noted that such VPNs cannot “manipulate ads that may affect the monetization of applications.”
Apparently, this update is aimed at curbing VPN services that collect user data, as well as preventing ad fraud. For example, developers are now required to declare their use of the VPNservice, must encrypt data transmitted from the device to the final VPN endpoint, and must comply with Developer Program Policies, especially those related to ad fraud, permissions, and malware.
The upcoming changes have already alerted application creators. For example, the developers of Blokada, a Swedish maker of ad-blocking VPN apps, fear that the rule change will prevent at least the previous version of their product, as well as other privacy-focused software, from working.
“Google says it is cracking down on apps that use VPNs to track user data or redirect user traffic to make money from ads. However, these changes will also be applied to apps that use the VPN to filter traffic locally on the device.
Blokada version 6, which launched in June, should work fine as it does filtering in the cloud without violating Google policies, according to Reda Labdaoui, marketing and sales manager for Blokada. However, in other applications problems may arise. For example, Labdoui gives an example of the DuckDuckGo browser for Android, which creates a local VPN service so that App Tracking Protection blocks trackers from connecting to tracking servers.
Journalists from The Register contacted the developers of DuckDuckGo and asked how Google’s policy changes would affect the browser. The company said that the changes should not affect the browser, although the DuckDuckGo team is still studying future changes.
Journalists note that another app that could be affected by the rule change is Jumbo for Android, which also uses VPN-related code to block trackers.
It must be said that Google has long banned Android apps that block ads in other apps (with the exception of browsers). In addition, experts have long been saying that if desired, Google’s rules can easily be used to ban ad blockers if the company suddenly decides to do so.