Droid Life has discovered that Google updated one of its Play store policies that prevents developers from updating apps outside the marketplace.
The recent change in Google's developer policy seemingly strikes back at Facebook who several months ago began bypassing Google Play to distribute beta updates directly to select Android app users. This method was supposedly used to test new features before they were officially rolled out to the Google Play masses.
According to reports, the first non-Google Play beta update for the Facebook Android app allowed users to change their profile photo directly from the mobile device, hide stories and report spam. It even featured an audible or vibrating notification that nagged the user until additional updates were installed. These app beta updates were only performed over Wi-Fi, and only on devices that allowed the installation of non-Play apps.
But Google has put a stop to that, and the move is understandable given the nature of Android's open-source focus. Google has enough problems on its hands keeping the level of malware and inappropriate content to a tolerable level – the company doesn't need secret updates sneaking into apps and possibly bricking potential ad sales.
"An app downloaded from Google Play may not modify, replace or update its own APK binary code using any method other than Google Play's update mechanism," the content policy reads under the "Dangerous Products" section.
As Droid Life points out, Google doesn't name a developer, but the move seemingly glares right in Facebook's direction. The "Install a new build" alerts apparently scared Android users to the point where they created threads "all over the Internet" trying to figure out if the updates were real or possibly malware... and for good reason.
Just recently Lookout Security discovered a new family of Android malware called BadNews. It arrived in the form of an ad network in legitimate apps, and pushed fake news to the user including links to "app updates" and other related apps. Most of these updates were actually the AlphaSMS toll fraud app which adds fraudulent charges to the user's phone bill via Premium SMS.
That said, it's understandable why many Facebook users grew paranoid over the in-app beta releases. The move to update outside Google Play's own distribution system seems rather sneaky – it certainly wouldn’t fly on Apple's App Store.
"Google Play is a trusted source for Android application downloads, and we are committed to provide a secure and consistent experience," Google is now telling developers via the Developer Console.