When Google says your software is unwanted
Design | Denis Susac

When Google says your software is unwanted

Thursday, Apr 23, 2015 • 3 min read
If you are offering software downloads on your site, you might be burned by the new Google advertising policy, labeled as "unwanted software", get your AdWords campaign stopped, and experience other effects of the lack of love from Google. Learn what you can do about it.

My day started with an email that looked like a phishing message, complaining that we violate Google’s advertising policies with our MonoX site. We did not make significant functional changes on that site during the last couple of months, and we are providing users with a fully functional version of our content management and social networking framework for almost 10 years. We have never mislead anyone into installing it, and we have terms of use, licensing agreement and privacy policy prominently displayed on the site - therefore, this must be some sort of scam, right? Wrong.

Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a legitimate mail, and our ads had been dropped from Google search, without details or warnings. Here is what they say:

Hello, We wanted to alert you that one of your sites violates our advertising policies. Therefore, we won’t be able to run any of your ads that link to that site, and any new ads pointing to that site will also be disapproved. Here’s what you can do to fix your site and hopefully get your ad running again:

  1. Make the necessary changes to your site that currently violates our policies: Display URL: our-domain.com Policy violation: Unwanted software Details & instructions: https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/50423?hl=en
  2. Resubmit your site to us, following the instructions in the link above.
    If your site complies with our policies, we can approve it to start running again. Repeated violations of our advertising policies could result in a suspension of your AdWords account, so it’s important to address any issues as soon as possible by reviewing our policies. >To learn more about AdWords suspension policies, please visit http://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/164786?hl=en&utm_source=policy&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=spsu.

One more thing: the display URL we got from them was wrong, so we had to go to the AdWords management to look for ads with the status “Site suspended” to pinpoint the source of our problem.

OK, time to leave all scheduled activities aside and see what’s going on. Google has a page explaining what’s not allowed, our sites most certainly do not contain malware or viruses, we turned our attention to the explanation of unwanted software. Here is what they say:

Promotions that violate Google’s Unwanted Software policy Examples: Failure to be transparent about the functionality that the software provides or the full implications of installing the software, failing to include Terms of Service or an End User License Agreement, bundling software or applications without the user’s knowledge, making system changes without the user’s consent, making it difficult for users to disable or uninstall the software, failing to properly use publicly available Google APIs when interacting with Google services or products.

The longer and more formal version of their Unwanted Software Policy is also available. The problem is that we are compliant with everything they say in it (or at least that’s what we thought). A moment later, we went straight into Webmaster tools - there is a direct link to the Security issues report from their help page. However, all we got is Currently, we haven’t detected any security issues with your site’s content. Back to square one.

A short Google search revealed that there are not too many resources regarding this problem - I guess that this will change very soon. However, one post from the guys from HttpWatch was particularly informative and entertaining, and quickly got us into the right track. It appears that not having a link to the EULA along with uninstall instructions somewhere at the download page will immediately classify your software as “unwanted”. We still think that it is important for a software company to have all terms and conditions displayed in plain sight, without loopholes, ambiguity or small print; however, there should be a gentler way to handle the issue of positioning links to such documents.

And just to reiterate what HttpWatch team already said, there are no uninstall instructions at the Chrome download page either. I would still never classify it as unwanted software, but it appears that there is some flexibility in interpretation of these policies after all.

“Mobilegeddon” recently stole all the spotlights - we were prepared for it, but this was a totally unexpected blow. So there we are, don’t worry when you see all those links to the EULA and uninstall instructions at the MonoX site. It was just us trying to get back love from Google. And it is fair to admit that they resolved this issue quickly and professionally, in just a couple of hours, so we can run AdWords campaigns again.