A polyamorous dating app called #open was suspended from Google Play this week—despite playing by Google's rules.
"The simple fact of the matter is this is out of our control & yet another example of how quickly & effortlessly thousands of marginalized individuals can be silenced," the Twitter account for #open tweeted on March 8. "Facebook, Instagram, & other large tech companies alike, continue to suppress content, ideologies & in turn, communities, through vague ‘guidelines’ that seem to conveniently apply to unconventional brands & thoughts."
Co-founders Amanda Wilson and David Epstein told Motherboard that the company’s product manager, Mailie Maniliguis, submitted an update to the wording of their Google Play listing "as all apps do from time to time," on March 4. They heard nothing from Google until two days later, when Google notified them that the app had been suspended and removed, citing violation of Google Play's "Sexual Content and Profanity policy." The notice specifically said that the app's title and full description were the parts in violation.
The title submitted was "#open: ENM + Polyamorous Dating," with the description:
"#open, the polyamorous #opendating for couples and singles who embrace ethical non-monogamy from polyamory, threesomes, kinky dates & more. With tools to identify your desired relationship styles, #open has space to meet polyam, kinky, or open-minded people you want. #open is Dating, Updated."
"Our Apple App Store description is almost identical and yet we have no issues there," Maniliguis said. "Each of the keywords in our Title and Full description are keywords that show up on hundreds of our competitors in the Google Play store. Each appears in the Google Play Store on other apps between 50 and 250 times."
Google's developer guidelines prohibit apps "that contain or promote sexual content or profanity, including pornography, or any content or services intended to be sexually gratifying." But this doesn't cover dating apps; there are dozens of polyamorous dating apps on Google Play, and many specifically for finding threesomes, kink, hookups and one night stands—often as explicitly described by their titles.
The #open developers appealed the suspension, and are still waiting to hear back—but they say that this lost time is damaging. Before the suspension, they said they'd ranked as number one in Google Play for the search “Polyamorous Dating app,” and also for the search “Polyamorous dating."
"It quite literally took us years and many of our resources to get to these positions...So the question is, what happens now?" Wilson and Epstein said in an email. "Will we lose this ranking even if we win our appeal? The uncertainty is unsettling."
Hannah Szafranski, the social media manager for #open, said that the "number one obstacle" that stands between them and more success is their ability to advertise—and this isn't the first time they've been censored, as they're also banned from advertising Facebook and Instagram. "As a team, we’ve worked tirelessly to take #open from a tiny community of 5,000 to over 90,000+ members," Szafranski said. "That’s taken a lot more work, a lot more resources, and a lot longer of time than it should have, and now we’ve lost over 1,000 new potential members in the week we’ve been suspended from Google Play alone."
Almost every major social media platform that allows businesses to buy advertising has arbitrary and confusing rules about what is and isn't allowed, when it comes to sexual speech. Facebook's ad rules are especially confounding, and Apple is arguably even more strict about sexual speech and playing by the content guidelines than Google Play. For small businesses, that don't have the time or money to untangle every whim of these platforms, getting suspended without breaking any rules—which can lead to being permanently banned—is a serious blow.
"Breaking into any market is hard enough, breaking into the tech industry that is quite literally controlled by a handful of companies is nearly impossible," Szafranski said. "We can’t advertise to our audience because of arbitrary 'guidelines,' and now we aren’t even available to over 50 percent of the global market share."
Motherboard has contacted Google for comment, and will update if we hear back.