Google to developers: We take down your extension, because we can

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Today, I found this email from Google in my inbox:

We routinely review items in the Chrome Web Store for compliance with our Program policies to ensure a safe and trusted experience for our users. We recently found that your item, “Google search link fix,” with ID: cekfddagaicikmgoheekchngpadahmlf, did not comply with our Developer Program Policies. Your item did not comply with the following section of our policy:

We may remove your item if it has a blank description field, or missing icons or screenshots, and appears to be suspicious. Your item is still published, but is at risk of being removed from the Web Store.

Please make the above changes within 7 days in order to avoid removal.

Not sure why Google chose the wrong email address to contact me about this (the account is associated with another email address) but luckily this email found me. I opened the extension listing and the description is there, as is the icon. What’s missing is a screenshot, simply because creating one for an extension without a user interface isn’t trivial. No problem, spent a bit of time making something that will do to illustrate the principle.

And then I got another mail from Google, exactly 2 hours 30 minutes after the first one:

We have not received an update from you on your Google Chrome item, “Google search link fix,” with ID: cekfddagaicikmgoheekchngpadahmlf, item before the expiry of the warning period specified in our earlier email. Because your item continues to not comply with our policies stated in the previous email, it has now been removed from the Google Chrome Web Store.

I guess, Mountain View must be moving at extreme speeds, which is why time goes by way faster over there — relativity theory in action. Unfortunately, communication at near-light speeds is also problematic, which is likely why there is no way to ask questions about their reasoning. The only option is resubmitting, but:

Important Note: Repeated or egregious policy violations in the Chrome Web Store may result in your developer account being suspended or could lead to a ban from using the Chrome Web Store platform.

In other words: if I don’t understand what’s wrong with my extension, then I better stay away from the resubmission button. Or maybe my update with the new screenshot simply didn’t reach them yet and all I have to do is wait?

Anyway, dear users of my Google search link fix extension. If you happen to use Google Chrome, I sincerely recommend switching to Mozilla Firefox. No, not only because of this simple extension of course. But Addons.Mozilla.Org policies happen to be enforced in a transparent way, and appealing is always possible. Mozilla also has a good track record of keeping out malicious extensions, something that cannot be said about Chrome Web Store (a recent example).

Update (2018-07-04): The Hacker News thread lists a bunch of other cases where extensions were removed for unclear reasons without a possibility to appeal. It seems that having a contact within Google is the only way of resolving this.

Update 2 (2018-07-04): The extension is back, albeit without the screenshot I added (it’s visible in the Developer Dashboard but not on the public extension page). Given that I didn’t get any notification whatsoever, I don’t know who to thank for this and whether it’s a permanent state or whether the extension is still due for removal in a week.

Update 3 (2018-07-04): Now I got an email from somebody at Google, thanks to a Google employee seeing my blog post here. So supposedly this was an internal miscommunication, which resulted in my screenshot update being rejected. All should be good again now and all I have to do is resubmit that screenshot.

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Comments

  1. Thomas

    Gibt’s keine Möglichkeit die Google Chrome Extension „hintenherum“ zu installieren? Ich habe die Erweiterung sehr gerne genutzt.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    Es ist ziemlich kompliziert. Man kann die Erweiterung lokal entpacken (oder das Github-Repository nutzen) und dann im Entwicklermodus installieren. Updates wird es dann aber keine geben.

    Mal sehen, von einem Google-Mitarbeiter wurde ich bereits kontaktiert – vielleicht wird Google die Erweiterung ja doch noch reaktivieren, oder zumindest konkretisieren, was nun das Problem ist.

  2. Fred

    Have you ever published anything to AMO? They’re infinitely more likely to block your extension for whatever reason and they’ll bug you if you use whatever library they don’t like, including jQuery.

    Reply from Wladimir Palant:

    More than that – I even reviewed other people’s extensions on AMO for a while. Yes, AMO used to be way more strict than CWS with potential privacy and security issues, rightfully so. I think that they relaxed review policies considerably with WebExtensions now. But – no, older jQuery versions are still not allowed, these were responsible for way too many security issues. But with AMO you always know what the problem is and you always know who to ask for clarification.

  3. Brian Dowtin

    I don’t need google or mozilla’s approval to run a browser extension. From what I’ve seen of their actions, they disagree. Under the banner of ‘security’ they claim the need for ultimate authority, but year on year, they unknowingly distribute bad extensions. Unknowing bad, still does bad. Security is a useful ruse. Google & Mozilla have made it increasingly harder to install an ‘unapproved’ extension, but what if their rules for ‘approval’ are different than mine, and what if I want my browser to do something, that goes against their ‘business policy’. Is the browser my tool or theirs?

  4. Stephan Sokolow

    @Brian

    Then you install from one of the Firefox channels explicitly intended for people who know what they’re doing (ESR, Unbranded Stable, Unbranded Beta, Developer Edition, or Nightly) and toggle the signing enforcement preference, rather than running the Branded Stable or Branded Beta channels marketed to the average Joe or Jane who has become the weakest link in their own security.

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