Google this week removed a free VPN app from its Play Store because it included a donation button, reigniting a debate over whether its policy hurts the open-source community.
On Wednesday, the tech giant approved and then removed VPN tunnel management app WireGuard from the Google Play Store for having a donation button, according to the app’s developer Jason Donenfeld.
WireGuard itself is a free, open-source project that promises to improve VPN technology. So to help fund it, Donenfeld has been asking for donations. Google, however, has strict policies regulating the way Android apps on the Play Store can receive funds.
“They (Google) said it was because we’re in violation of their ‘Payments Policy,’ presumably because we have a link inside the app that opens the user’s web browser to wireguard.com/donations,” Donenfeld said in an email to WireGuard users on Wednesday.
According to Google’s policy, developers on the Play Store must use the company’s in-house billing system when it comes to purchases made inside its apps, but that in-house billing system currently doesn’t support donations. WireGuard’s donation page, on the other hand, accepts funds via PayPal, Stripe, Patreon, and Bitcoin.
So far, Google has remained mum on the whole situation. But the company also recently took down another free Android app, andOTP, for including a donation link.
In the meantime, Google’s decision has stirred up discussion over whether its donation policy is needlessly hurting open-source projects. Donenfeld told PCMag he appealed the removal with Google, but the company rejected his request. For now, he’s managed to re-upload a new version of WireGuard to the Google Play Store without a donation button.
“I didn’t mean for the email to cause controversy, but somebody evidently posted it to Hacker News, where it’s been sitting at the top of the page all day,” Donenfeld told PCMag in an email. “While the removal of the link from WireGuard has very few immediate practical effects on the project, the principle of the matter seems to have struck a chord with the community at large.”
Android developers have previously brought up Google’s stance against in-app donations on the Play Store. One solution has been to scrap the donation links in favor of in-app purchases to let users buy a cheap digital good (for instance, a new color skin for the app’s user interface). But this also means Google would receive a 30 percent cut of the transaction.
For now, Donenfeld said he plans to wait to hear back from Google before deciding on how to proceed. “With that all said, the WireGuard project does live on donations, and we certainly do appreciate each and every supporter of our free open source software,” he added.