Let's google "a failure to communicate"

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The difference between a family shop and a mega-chain is passion, expertise, and personal touch vs larger selection, cheaper prices, and more generous warranties and return policies. If I need expert advice for a new project, I prefer a smaller shop with a personal touch. If I need several tons of gravel or contractor levels of mulch, I hit up Lowe's - I don't want advice, just a lower price tag.

Taken to an extreme, let's imagine a store where the selection is nearly limitless, the cost is free (as in money), but the personal touch is non-existent. The only way a place like that would survive is if they found out some other way to make money (say, selling information about you), and convincing the world that what they offer is so valuable people will never leave despite their abysmal customer service.

On a completely unrelated note, Google is a trillion dollar behemoth with a billion+ customers using mostly free apps with a low barrier to entry. Heaven help you when you actually need someone to hold your hand though - not one of their 118,000 employees or 140,000 contractors will be able to help you.

May the odds be ever in your favor!

A few months ago, I pushed a minor update to an extension that's lived happily in the Chrome web store for years without a problem, but I won the sucky lottery. What follows is a series of emails trying to figure out what I could do to fix the problem. What a waste of time. 🙄


Google (let's play a guessing game)

tl;dr: Let's play a guessing game! We'll flag your code for permissions, and you guess which one! What? We specialize in machine learning, not people learning...

From: Chrome Web Store Developer Support
Date: 2/6/2020 12:45 PM
Subject: Chrome Web Store: Removal notification for Twitter Tamer

Dear Developer,

Your Google Chrome item "Twitter Tamer" with ID: aflapchiclhldkgbbahbdionenmhkoed did not comply with our policies and was removed from the Chrome Web Store.

Your item did not comply with the following section of our Program Policies:

"User Data Privacy"

Your product violates the "Use of Permissions" section of the policy, which requires that you:

Request access to the narrowest permissions necessary to implement your product’s features or services.

If more than one permission could be used to implement a feature, you must request those with the least access to data or functionality.

Don't attempt to "future proof" your product by requesting a permission that might benefit services or features that have not yet been implemented.

Once your item complies with Chrome Web Store policies, you may request re-publication in the Chrome Web Store Developer Dashboard. Your item will be reviewed for policy compliance prior to re-publication.

If you have any questions about this email, please respond and the Chrome Web Store Developer Support team will follow up with you.

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.

This may also result in the suspension of related Google services associated with your Google account.

Sincerely,

Chrome Web Store Developer Support

I checked online to verify, and sure enough:

Me

tl;dr: Which permissions?

2/6/2020 1:14 PM

What?? I request access to "activeTab" and "storage" (for saving settings), and the "matches" section is only for Twitter's domain. If you see a way to limit that more and have the extension still function, by all means please share.

Google

tl;dr: Déjà vu

2/9/2020 6:34 AM

Dear Developer,

Upon review of your Product, [Twitter Tamer ], with ID: [aflapchiclhldkgbbahbdionenmhkoed], we find that it does not comply with the Chrome Web Store’s User Data Policy, and it has been removed from the store.

Your Product violates the “Use of Permissions” section of the policy, which requires that you:

Request access to the narrowest permissions necessary to implement your Product’s features or services. If more than one permission could be used to implement a feature, you must request those with the least access to data or functionality.

Don't attempt to "future proof" your Product by requesting a permission that might benefit services or features that have not yet been implemented.

To reinstate your Product, please ensure that your Product requests and uses only those permissions that are necessary to deliver the currently stated product’s features.

If you’d like to re-submit your Product, please modify your Product so that it complies with the Chrome Web Store’s Developer Program Policies, then re-publish it in your Developer Dashboard.

Please reply to this email for questions / clarifications regarding this Product removal.

Thank you for your cooperation,

Google Chrome Web Store team

Me

tl;dr: @#&$!

2/9/2020 7:40 AM

It took 2 days for someone to send the same canned response?! Let's try again.

I request access to "activeTab" and "storage" (for saving settings), and the "matches" section is only for Twitter's domain. I need to know exactly what to change to be approved. What specific change do I need to make to the permissions?

Google

tl;dr: Okay yeah, the first one you mentioned. Remove that one.

2/10/2020 7:12 AM

Dear Developer,

Upon review of your Product, Twitter Tamer, with ID: aflapchiclhldkgbbahbdionenmhkoed, we find that it does not comply with the Chrome Web Store’s User Data Policy, and it has been removed from the store.

Your Product violates the “Use of Permissions” section of the policy, which requires that you:

Remove activeTabs permission.

Request access to the narrowest permissions necessary to implement your Product’s features or services. If more than one permission could be used to implement a feature, you must request those with the least access to data or functionality.

Don't attempt to "future proof" your Product by requesting a permission that might benefit services or features that have not yet been implemented.

To reinstate your Product, please ensure that your Product requests and uses only those permissions that are necessary to deliver the currently stated product’s features.

If you’d like to re-submit your Product, please modify your Product so that it complies with the Chrome Web Store’s Developer Program Policies, then re-publish it in your Developer Dashboard.

Please reply to this email for questions / clarifications regarding this Product removal.

Thank you for your cooperation,

Google Chrome Web Store team

Note that all "ActiveTab" pretty much does is give you access to the current page only when the user clicks your extension's icon in the toolbar. I used it to enable/disable the extension and offer to refresh the page for the user, only if they were actually on Twitter's site.

I made a grave mistake and tried to appease the system, removing the permission and completely harmless functionality. I uploaded it an went to be, confident that my effort would be worth it for a few hundred people at least. The next morning, I got another email, flagging the extension for a completely different reason.

Google (or maybe whack-a-mole)

tl;dr: Making you remove storage would be kinda odd. Okay you know what, your extension's fishy. Fix that please.

2/11/2020 5:09 AM

Dear Developer,

Your Google Chrome item "Twitter Tamer" with ID: aflapchiclhldkgbbahbdionenmhkoed did not comply with our policies and was removed from the Chrome Web Store.

Your item did not comply with the following section of our Program Policies:

"Spam and Placement in the Store"

Item has a blank description field, or missing icons or screenshots, and appears to be suspicious.

Once your item complies with Chrome Web Store policies, you may request re-publication in the Chrome Web Store Developer Dashboard. Your item will be reviewed for policy compliance prior to re-publication.

If you have any questions about this email, please respond and the Chrome Web Store Developer Support team will follow up with you.

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.

This may also result in the suspension of related Google services associated with your Google account.

Sincerely,

Chrome Web Store Developer Support

Me

tl;dr: You're idiots.

2/11/2020 7:47 AM

This extension has been around for quite awhile. I don't obfuscate the code or do anything else that's suspicious. It's certainly not spam. The whole thing is open source and available for anyone to pick apart.

I took the time to remove the activeTab permission, which you were complaining about before. Now you're rejecting it for a completely different reason. What in the world is really going on? Do you have an interest in Twitter, and approving this extension is now some conflict of interest for Google?

At this point, I'm flummoxed. It's got a description, screenshots, icons, blah blah blah, so the only thing left is it "appears to be suspicious". What do you do with that? Okay, the code ain't the prettiest, but I attempt to hide nothing whatsoever.

Google

tl;dr: Sticks and stones and all that. Let's start over again.

2/12/2020 3:07 AM

Dear Developer,

Your item, "Twitter Tamer," with ID: aflapchiclhldkgbbahbdionenmhkoed, did not comply with our Developer Program Policies and was removed from the Google Chrome Web store.

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

If you'd like to re-submit your item, please make the appropriate changes to the item so that it complies with our policies, then re-publish it in your developer dashboard. Please reply to this email for issues regarding this item removal.

*Please keep in mind that your re-submitted item will not be immediately published live in the store. All re-submitted items undergo a strict compliance review and will be re-published if the item passes review.

*Important Note

Repeated or egregious violations in the store may result in your developer account being banned from the store. This may also result in the suspension of related Google services associated with your Google account.

All re-submitted items will continue to be subject to Chrome Web Store policies and terms of service.

Thank you for your cooperation,

Google Chrome Web Store team

The only winning move is not to play

Okay, that's pretty dramatic. I won't dump Google completely, but I will start relegating them to the corner. They provide some useful services, but most of them are not novel, in no way free, and come with zero support. If only this were the first time I'd experienced that fact.

I created an extension to help others, it worked, and suddenly Google pulled the rug out. Maybe if I had a social media presence to call them out then I'd get more info... meh, probably not. For now, I've pulled the extension from the store.

One final thought. Having a few "official" stores, each tightly integrated with their own platform, seems like a Bad Idea. The perceived value is that they're keeping their respective users safe, but in reality they have their own interests... and their end-users are only a (very) small part of that.

Author

Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.


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