The app world is a massive place. There are millions of applications and games between the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. It is no surprise that some of them get into trouble now and then. This year was pretty big for controversy. Some stretched over almost the whole of 2020, while others are still ongoing at the time of writing. The pandemic certainly did not help things, and even the FTC got a little into the mix. Let’s take a look at the most controversial apps and games from 2020.
1. ToTok is allegedly spying on humans
ToTok, a popular chat app (not to be confused with TikTok), was banned from the Google Play Store in January after New York Times wrote an article presenting strong evidence that it was a spy app for the United Arab Emirates. Much of the app’s success came from the UAB government, which blocked similar features in other apps. Huawei also promoted the app. It eventually returned to the Play Store in early January, but was removed again in February. It stays away from both Google and Apple’s app stores at the time of writing.
2. Google Photo eliminates unlimited backups
Credit: Joe Hindy / Android Authority
For many years, Google Photos represented the best deal in mobile history. It allows you to upload and save your phone’s photos and videos at a slightly lower quality for free. Pixel devices also got free uploads of photos and videos in full resolution, as one of the benefits of owning Google devices.
Related: The best options for Google Photos
However, Google stopped free uploading in 2020. It is currently available, but support will stop on June 1, 2021. Yes, it also includes Pixel phones. After that, uploading photos will take up Google Drive space. You can always buy more Google Drive storage and keep it, but the free and unlimited benefits were amazing. People were understandably upset. There are options, but none of them are as simple or as accessible as Google Photos.
3. Google bans 600 apps, goodbye Cheetah Mobile
Apps and games are banned all the time. Google Play Protect alone prevents well over a billion malware installations per year. However, there was something special about this batch. These 600 apps were banned to provide virtually no benefits to end users and only to show as many ads as possible. Among these 600 were basically all the Cheetah Mobile apps in the Play Store. It’s a kind of open secret that Cheetah Mobil’s applications are mostly hose oil. Google’s banhammer finally proved it to everyone. God riddance, Cheetah Mobile.
4. India bans a bunch of Chinese apps, including TikTok and PUBG Mobile
India and China have some political differences at the moment. Part of the downfall was a mass ban on many Chinese apps from the Google Play Store in India. The list included some big hitters like most UC apps, WeChat, TikTok, ES File Explorer, most DU apps, and ironically Clean Master by Cheetah Mobile before it was removed everywhere. There was even an app (no longer available now) that told you which apps were Chinese so you could get rid of them. India will eventually add another 117 apps, including PUBG Mobile, to the list. A new version of PUBG specifically designed for the Indian market is under development, but without a final release date. This is in progress, so you can see more about it in our controversial app list from 2021.
5. The FTC wants to know how apps use your data
The FTC previously ordered a bunch of online services to reveal how they use user data. The current services include YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Reddit and several others. It is a true who is who of technical giants. In addition, the FTC wants to know how each company uses this data to display ads, how they study user engagement, and how their algorithms work. The inquiry can be a big deal since all these companies compete with each other. However, privacy is a major concern for people these days, so we’ll see how it goes. This happened in December 2020, and it is still going on at the time of writing.
6. Google withdraws Google Play Music in favor of YouTube Music
Credit: Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
We knew that Google replaced Google Play Music for YouTube Music last year. However, the saga did not take place officially until this year. It took place on two fronts. On the one hand, YouTube Music still got a lot of features from Google Play Music while the latter was during sunset. The transfer of power became official on December 4, when Google Play Music began to shut down for all.
See also: Google makes a big mistake by killing Play Music for YouTube Music
Many Play Music customers hated the move. The whole process took so long that the mood had plenty of time to boil over during the transition. YouTube Music is improving, but it is still far behind its predecessor in terms of features. In addition, the list of viable options is quite short and requires several apps for anyone who wants to replace each feature. Many will miss Google Play Music, including me.
7. COVID-19 Exposure Alert API
COVID-19 hit the world like lots of bricks, and everyone is ready for 2020 to be over with because of it. The CDC recommended that we all wash our hands, stay six meters apart and wear masks. Meanwhile, Google and Apple tried to create a system to track who has COVID-19 and who was exposed. The contact tracking API was met with cynicism and skepticism, as it was able to track people and tell others who you came in contact with.
Google and Apple more or less shattered those concerns by introducing some sort of rulebook. The worst part, however, is how long it has taken governments to roll out apps that use the API to track COVID-19 proliferation. Many states in the United States do not have it, and many regions around the world never received an app either. Even in places where the apps are available, not many people use them. For example, the Virginia version of the app has only 100,000 installations compared to the population of 8.5 million.
Most versions of the app have bad reviews, citing inability to record positive results, slow exposure updates and not getting alerts when people know they were exposed by a loved one and the loved one reported it. It is December 2020, and the number of cases is increasing worldwide. Obviously this effort was a bit late since a vaccine is coming soon. However, it is built into iOS and Android, so maybe it works better for the next pandemic.
8. The whole Zoom thing
When the world went into lockdown, video conferencing became a huge deal. Zoom won without a doubt. Lots of companies, schools and other organizations used it instead of face-to-face contact. Unfortunately, Zoom was not ready for so much advertising. Zoombombing became a thing. People would join Zoom meetings without invitations and do terrible things. The video conferencing was not encrypted, and there were a number of other security issues.
Zoom eventually encrypted everything, but it took a very long time to get to that point. It eventually solved a lot of the security issues and even locked people out if they did not update. Attempts were made to prevent Zoombombing as well, but not before a serious child problem. The company also had 500,000 accounts compromised, and it was a lawsuit at one point. Still, Zoom managed to reach 300 million daily active users just a few months ago. It was easily one of the most ridiculous years we have seen a company go through in a long time.
9. US Government versus TikTok
The United States is involved in a trade war with China. Last year, the big deal was the US embargo against Huawei, and there was talk of ad nauseum. This year, the focus has shifted to the world’s fastest growing social media network ever, TikTok. It all started with some privacy issues. The US government was concerned that TikTok’s parent company would transfer sensitive user data to the Chinese government. Meanwhile, the app was banned in several countries due to “immoral content” and other concerns. In the end, the US government decided to ban the app (along with WeChat), but it was stopped at the last second at the request of a federal judge.
To avoid the ban, TikTok had to sell to another company. Microsoft was in talks the longest, but eventually entered into a partnership with Oracle so that it could continue to operate in the United States. However, the US government wanted to review the code to ensure it was secure before approving the agreement. Most of the controversy is over for now, but many people still do not trust TikTok.
10. Epic Games (and co.) Vs. Google and Apple
Welcome to a controversy that may well drag on for a few years. Fortnite was originally launched on iOS in the App Store and as a standalone app on Android. It eventually migrated to Google Play in early 2020. A short while later, Epic Games tried to crack a payment method that bypassed 30% cut Apple and Google from developers. As a result, Apple kicked Fortnite out of the App Store quickly followed by Google Play. Then hell broke loose.
Epic Games immediately filed a lawsuit against Google, citing anti-competitive practices. It also accused Google of breaking agreements with LG and OnePlus to preload devices with Fortnite. Oh, and the company also sued Apple for basically the same thing. Apple earned an estimated $ 360 million from Fortnite before the expulsion. It also compared Epic Games to shoplifters in one of the most bizarre lawsuits we have ever seen. Meanwhile, Google tightened its in-app purchase policy to use only Google’s system, with effect from early 2021.
Epic Games is not alone here. A group of Indian startups agree that the 30% cut is too high for developers in India. In addition, Microsoft joined Epic Games in the battle because Epic Games is also developing Unreal Engine. Epic Games and Spotify teamed up with Tile, Match Group (Tinder, PlentyOfFish, OkCupid, Match.com), Deezer, Qobuz and lots of others to form the Coalition for App Fairness. Epic Games has been fighting for 30% tax for two years now, and while Apple made some changes to its policy to reduce the cut to 15% for smaller developers, the war is far from over. Do not be surprised if it is also on this list in 2021.
Take a look at controversial apps and games from previous years:
If we missed any major controversies, tell us about them in the comments! You can also click here to check out the latest Android apps and playlists.