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Google Play In-app Billing does not support donations [1], so open source developers should be allowed to link to their own donation pages. Google Play policies do not spell out that linking to donation platforms such as Patreon is forbidden.

Disallowing developers from using in-app billing for donations, while also barring them from linking to external donation platforms, puts open source projects in a difficult position, and appears to be overly hostile towards funding open source development.

Google must clarify their position on whether they allow donation links in apps published on Google Play. The app takedowns [2] of the last few days show that this is a significant development, and it is of great importance for all open source developers.

It's best to publicly document the messages you receive during app takedowns, since app store policies are often vague, it's easy for reviewers to make mistakes, and having a clear reference for these decisions also helps the public assess the validity of the takedown.

[1] https://play.google.com/about/monetization-ads/

> Here are some examples of products not currently supported by Google Play In-app Billing:

> One time-payments, including peer-to-peer payments, online auctions, and donations.

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21268389




> Disallowing developers from using in-app billing for donations, while also barring them from linking to external donation platforms, puts open source projects in a difficult position, and appears to be overly hostile towards funding open source development.

Google Play has been very clear about this[1]:

> Fund solicitations

> Examples: Donation solicitations from parties without a valid 501(c)(3) tax exempt status clearly displayed to the public; solicitations from parties without valid proof of exempt tax status or proof of registration with the relevant country's regulatory bodies and authorities; and political organizations that have registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC)

For instance, Wikipedia displays an external "Support Wikipedia" link in the main menu of its Android app[2] without violating Google Play's terms and conditions.

[1] https://support.google.com/faqs/answer/75724?hl=en

[2] https://i.imgur.com/MEut6yC.png


Sure, but why? If the rules clearly said "no chess games", one could say "that ends the discussion of why chess games are denied", or you could further ask "but why are no chess games allowed?". Is it because Google plans on having their own Google-Chess someday and thus is preemptively preventing competition? Is there a technical or regulatory reason chess games aren't allowed?

That's the question (at least for me) here: why are (non-tax-exempt) donations not allowed, beyond the tautological response of "because the rules say so"? I'm not familiar with the regulations around this area, so for all I know there's a great non-Google reason for this and Google just wants to avoid the hassle of conforming to some law. Or maybe donations is a feature they want to eventually support in Google Play and they don't want to have to force a bunch of apps in the future to switch once they add it (which would be a more disappointing reason). Perhaps they're afraid that it would create a loophole where people could get around the 30% cut since psychologically it feels shitty for someone to middle-man a donation, but then if they made donations Google-tax free, everyone would just choose "donation" and they'd have to police this.


My guess is it's ripe for fraud. Find open source app, put on Google with your donation platform of choice, profit!

By requiring government registration my guess is the hope is both that the fraudsters will be caught or dissuaded and if they do make it past the government registration then when the real devs complain Google can say "take it up with the government. They mis-licensed. We just followed their license"


My guess is you missed the point of Free Software. Anyone can use it in any way, including selling for profit. "Free" as in "freedom", you know

Recently I created a small homepage with different re-packaged versions of Java: https://jdk.dev

All that alternative packages are free of charge but they have extended support from a number of big companies. All these companies funded separately, there's no common place for donations or something.

That's totally ok in the world of Free Software. Pick any source code you want, repackage, rebrand it, sell it as you wish and may the Force be with you. People do it all the time.


Just because the license lets you do what you want with the code doesn't mean you’re allowed to commit fraud.

For example, if a person were to repackage someone else's open source project with a link that says, "Donate to support the development of this software" that's still fraud (assuming they keep the donations).


I understand your point but we should not assume criminal intent without some solid evidence.

Back in days I paid for CDs with only open source software because internet was too slow. CDs were definitely priced for decent profit. The beauty of opensource is that we can do this legally.


But this isn't a discussion of assuming criminal intent of a particular actor. This is a discussion of a rule to prevent actions by a hypothetical criminally-inclined actor...and thereby prevent a platform from getting a reputation for that criminal action.


I like that page but really not a fan of the font. It looks... dirty? Like writing with ink on wet paper.


If they repackaged the app, gave it out for free, but changed the donation link how would that violate the license?


I suspect OP was referring to the non-profit status given by the government as “the license,” not the license of the source code.


And a non-donation in-app payment isn't open for fraud?


If it was a normal in-app payment it would go through Google. Where it could be tracked, identified as fraud, and stopped.


You misspelled "Where it benefits Google, no matter whether it's fraud or not".


I am okay with that. No one is forcing anyone to use the Google service.


You are forced to use either Apple or Android or a Windows PC to acces many services that are essential to modern life. Android would probably be the cheapest option. So if you do not want to use Google services you would have to pay premium. For many people it is not an option.


I am not and I am not using neither Apple, Android (I am using the FOSS version, I guess that does not count as Android in this case) nor Windows and I am not missing anything, and I'm not frugal in this sense (most of my friends consider me a guy living in the future). And I am not paying premiums. I simply prefer web apps over native apps, it's a breeze with PWAs.


All government services where I live require Windows/Android or Apple. For some time I used Android in a VM for tax declaration etc, but the developers first banned the OS build name, so I changed the build name :P But then they found some way to figure out that I was using a VM. My hope is in PWA's, but the problem with PWA's (it's a feature really) is that it's harder to fingerprint and spy on the user. Also meaning it's harder to catch abuse like identity theft. I know there are ongoing work on Web ID standards where you can have a cheap second factor device as key. So it looks promising. But then there are the platforms, what incentive do they have, (more then empowering their users and developers), to actually enable a layer like web browsers that circumvent their monopoly status?


The requirement for provable non-profit status is a legal requirement. A new federal law that passed last year makes it so any "online" content distribution network (including Google play) is legally responsible for any crimes committed by someone else listing a product or message on their platform.

Basically, if you include a donation link in your app without proving non-profit status you could be committing fraud, and Google could be held equally responsible to the crimes of the app being hosted. Google also has to report non-tax exempt profits made by any app/content they host in many locations, so only non-profit groups may link to a 3rd party payment system without violating legal statutes in some countries/states.


> Basically, if you include a donation link in your app without proving non-profit status you could be committing fraud,

How is it fraud to ask for donations without being a non-profit?

> Google also has to report non-tax exempt profits made by any app/content they host in many locations,

I am not familiar with google's payment model, but is there no way to charge users except through Google for google play apps?


How is it fraud to ask for donations without being a non-profit?

It's higher risk for sure. Non-501c3 donations are the kind of high risk small peanuts you can imagine a behemoth like Google wanting to get away from.


Thank's for the insightful response. I figured it was google covering their financial butt.


Because it saves google some hassle in policing shady monetary schemes. As soon as money is involved it is a massive hassle. Going outside of established monetary policy opens up a massive hole of shenanigans. Not to mention every app you download would have huge incentive to put up endless patreon/donate buttons that would go outside of googles carefully crafted walled garden, yet they would be held responsible for shady practices.


So they want the app store but as soon as it gets comlex or difficult to manage they kick up their heels and ban apps rather than stepping up to the plate and owning thier problem.


It seems like either (1) Google fears getting in legal trouble, or (2) Google wants to tax the transaction.


Their house, their rules.


Right, but I’m outside their house, asking others who are standing on the sidewalk with me, why they think they have these rules.


Smartphone app stores are a duopoly, so I don't think Google should have total freedom to decide what they allow and what they don't.


There are at least three, actually, since Amazon also runs their own store which can be installed on any Android device. Samsung has another one specifically for Samsung devices, and there's also F-Droid though that might not count as a "store" since it doesn't handle payments. Anyone else can start their own the same way. Only the Apple devices are restricted to apps from their vendor-specific app store.


A great way to have nobody come to your parties.


Or a good way to avoid having party guests trash your house.


Can't have party guests trash your house if nobody comes to your party!

taps finger on temple


Problem comes when they own 90% of houses


It appears only non-profit organizations are allowed to use Google Play In-app Billing for donations, which is fine.

But why are we forbidden from linking to an external page that lists other ways to support a project, such as Patreon?

I think we should stop being apologetic, and begin to call out Google for the damage they are inflicting upon open source developers.


> If only non-profit organizations are allowed to use Google Play In-app Billing for donations

Nobody is allowed to use Google Play's in-app billing for donations, and only organizations with a valid tax exempt status can link to an external page that lists donation options.


The page you linked to lists activities that are forbidden if you use Google payments.

> Any individual or business processing transactions with Google payments must adhere to these policies.


Maybe the Software Freedom Conservancy[1] or Software in the Public Interest[2] could help open source Android apps take donations.

[1]: https://sfconservancy.org/ [2]: https://www.spi-inc.org/


What do you do if you aren't based in the US? Are you able to gain a tax-exempt status or do that only applies to US orgs?


It's pretty obtuse to only permit 501(c)(3)s.

Likely this is Google avoiding additional regulatory complications/KYC. It's cumbersome to prove you're not enabling money laundering or funding terrorist organizations if you're an arbitrary money sink.

But I'd expect better than Google, a business with an astounding $836B market cap. They could just buy a company that primarily handles this sort of money flow (e.g. Streamlabs)


It's understandable that they want to process payments only for registered organizations, but that still does not explain why are open source apps being taken down for linking to an external page that lists ways to support projects.


Probably because Google or it's financial partners have compliance programs that require all money flows they enable go through the required regulatory channels.

If an affiliated party is breaking regulations, you can often get in trouble by continuing to be associated with them once you're aware, and ignorance isn't a valid defense.


It's unlikely that GitHub subjects themselves to legal risk by allowing developers to link to Patreon [1]. I think this issue has more to do with Google's priorities, than what is legally possible.

[1] https://help.github.com/en/articles/displaying-a-sponsor-but...


Patreon assumes the bulk of the legal risk, and GitHub probably is ok with Patreon.

FWIW I agree with you, Google isn't prioritizing solving this properly and is opting to take the easy way out


Oh do come off it. This is bureaucratic bullshit at its' finest.

We're talking about a hyperlink in the app. Linking to wireguard.com would be fine.

How about if wireguard.com had a big donate button?

How about if wireguard.com has 'Donate' in bold?

I know you're not the person actually signing off on this - but to the one that is - fuck you. In bold.

No-one is getting sued because of one step being removed in a hyperlink chain to a donate button. If they are it's getting thrown out instantaneously.

Characterising a link to a donate button as being in _any way_ related to aiding money laundering is ridiculous.

Cease this insanity.


It's not a lawsuit that people are afraid of. It's potential action from financial regulators, who are famously inflexible and disinterested in being nice to open source software developers in genuine financial need.

Parties like Google and Apple are well aware of the potential consequences, and thus are similarly inflexible and disinterested in being nice to a fairly small group of use-cases that exposes them to an outsized amount of risk.

It's really, deeply unfortunate. It's incredibly painful for everyone who has to deal with this bureaucratic bullshit. Unfortunately, it being bullshit doesn't make it less real or less reasonable.


Unless you're casting literally any action ever as being subject to "potential action from financial regulators", which is theoretically true but simply asinine to discuss, this completely misses the point.

It is not a real concern for Google to have a hyperlink https://wireguard.com/donations buried inside an app distributed on the Google Play Store.

I don't believe your concern is legitimate. It's arse covering gone mad, sorry.

Rhetorical:

You can email me, my email is in my bio, and I will respond with a way that you can send me money. If dang reads this post and does not take it down, does that put HN at risk of AML action for potentially 'aiding the money flow'?

edit: actually, you can click through enough links on my bio and get directly to donation pages. now we're really fucked, right? who's gonna turn off the lights?


Your rhetorical is not equivalent. Google Play Store is a marketplace. Google facilitates transactions -- from users to app developers. Some transactions are free, but Google's financial partnerships might mandate that certain regulations apply to the entire Google Play Store ecosystem. I could be wrong, but I'd reckon this is a grey area and Google is opting to avoid the problem altogether (IMO a bad choice).

This website is different -- not just free -- there is no financial partnership in play (as far as I'm aware). But rules still apply. If you put a link in your profile taking donations for Syria, the operators of this site are obligated to comply with OFAC sanctions and I'd expect your profile to change pretty quickly.

In this case, I'm guessing Google is opting to choose the path of least resistance, and rather than perform due diligence and KYC for apps which solicit donations, they've chosen to just... not do that.


They haven't chosen to just "not do that".

They've chosen to pre-emptively cover their arse against a risk less likely than an asteroid hitting Earth by just nuking the apps.

There's another thread on HN about this right now - I don't know how these people can like, exist, in this world, with every one of the hairs on their head individually combed into a perfect slick. Can you even eat breakfast without worrying about some tail risk?

Too much HN for today, methinks. I'm so glad that the normal people I interact with in the world aren't this wanky (I don't mean you or other posters here, but the bureautwats that actually implement this stuff)


Honestly, I'm in agreement with you.

You're right, and the Google is wrong.


Really? Because Chrome allows me to navigate to all manner of sketchy sites- should Google be dropping Chrome? I mean, it's about as specious of reasoning as claiming that financial regulators will go after Google over donation buttons in apps. At that point, the whole thing is so far removed that it feels like being worried over getting struck by lightning. Heck, Chrome will even autofill a saved card into a donation page for me. Does Google need to follow KYC for every Chrome user and every page they visit?

Sure, maybe the argument can be made, but come on. We all know this is so that Google can get their nice 30% cut, and cut off any alternate funding sources for Android apps. Otherwise, shady developers will just require a "donation" instead of a purchase. That is behavior that Google would be reasonable to police, but to claim that action from financial regulators is what's causing this is just silly.


So many services use KYC/AML stuff as a catch-all excuse because it's easy to claim 'tip-off' provisions and just flat out refuse with no further information.

It's just your bog standard wanky corporate dishonesty. Nothing new under the sun.


Google does not exercise significant control over what websites a user can visit with Chrome. They certainly don't maintain a whitelist. Some might opine that the Play store is perhaps a slightly different matter.

It may also be worth considering that actions can, at some times and in some situations, be taken by human beings for multiple reasons with multiple independent motivations. All of which are real, genuine reasons.


They maintain a blacklist though, called Google Safe Browsing. Perhaps Bitcoin sites should be added to that to prevent money laundering. Pornographers should be licensed, otherwise omitted from search results.

Too many adverse effects you say? Sorry, that's just the way it is, no use complaining.


They are not enabling this money transfer. They have nothing to do with it at all.


> Examples

Since those are examples I hope this also covers tax-exempt charities in other jurisdictions.

I switched to the german site and it still only refers to american laws.


The full text says "relevant country's regulatory bodies and authorities".

"Examples: Donation solicitations from parties without a valid 501(c)(3) tax exempt status clearly displayed to the public; solicitations from parties without valid proof of exempt tax status or proof of registration with the relevant country's regulatory bodies and authorities; and political organizations that have registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC)."


> solicitations from parties without a valid 501(c)(3) tax exempt status clearly displayed to the public

As far as I can tell (though I am no expert) it would be very difficult or impossible for an open source project to qualify for 501(c)(3) tax exemption. And even if it was, the cost in both time and money to obtain such a status would not be worth it for small open source projects.


What you quote seems to be the Google Payments policy, not the Google Play policy:

"Any individual or business processing transactions with Google payments must adhere to these policies."

These apps weren't using Google payments, and it is suspected that they were taken down for not using Google's payment systems (despite not being allowed to).


>Any individual or business processing transactions with Google payments must adhere to these policies.

Are the developers using google payments for other things/apps? Because in the context of these specific apps they are not using Google payments, so the policy wouldn't appear to be applicable.


> (...) puts open source projects in a difficult position, and appears to be overly hostile towards funding open source development.

This is the problem of developing free software on a non-free platform. They have absolute control of your work under their own terms, no matter how ridiculous they are. I never understood why the google play store is a socially acceptable idea for free software developers.


It's the most widely used software distribution channel in the world. I'm sure most would prefer to distribute on F-Droid but open source developers want their apps to be successful too.


... and this is why it's a good idea to use F-Droid instead of the Google Play Store if you can.


> Google Play In-app Billing does not support donations [1], so open source developers should be allowed to link to their own donation pages.

Ok, I had to stop there. They have no claim to this as long as they distribute within the store. It would be nice if google allowed this, but there is no obligation. App Stores are monopolies and should be regulated to allow open distribution.


I just cannot comprehend how there are thousands of predatory apps on the store and these apps get banned.

Aside from that it should highlight problems with app stores as a model for software distriubtion in general, although I don't have much hope that this will happen in the immediate future.

That there even exists such a rule is ridiculous and unacceptable in my opinion.


I don’t believe cable tv, for how locked down and awful it is/was, ever went so far as to try and limit any spending outside their own platforms. Perhaps it was a lack of innovation, but the internet and the world of software licensing is gross by comparison


Perhaps the solution would be to allow users to buy a 'virtual currency' in the app that actually doesn't do anything? It could be argued that this is a vanity item, like cosmetics, and so is exempt.


In this case, can't you simply have a one time purchase instead of a donation ?


There are always workarounds, but that is not the point. We must not allow these platforms to discriminate against funding open source development through donations.


Why can't open source app developer have companion donation app like many freemium android apps do?




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