On September 21, 2022, Google removed the Covenant Eyes Android app from the Play Store. On March 1, 2023, our app was reinstated to Google Play. Since then, many people have asked “Why,” and some widely read publications have speculated about the reasons. Since we know the real story, we wanted to set the record straight!
What Google Policies Did Covenant Eyes Violate?
We don’t know which, if any, policies were violated because Google never told us specifically. An article by Wired magazine claimed we violated Google’s policy related to the “accessibility” function on Android devices. Since our app was suspended just prior to the publication of this article, we suspect it was related to this. However, if that’s the case, it is not what Google told us.
At the time of our suspension, we received a notification from Google that cited us for violating their general “malware” policy. However, they did not say what it was about our app that didn’t match the policy. We don’t know whether they were labeling a specific feature of our app as malware, or the concept of accountability reporting in general.
Google had already reviewed and approved the same app many times over the past eleven years. We followed Google’s appeal process to find out whether something had changed in their policies, but we were never able to get a clear answer.
Did Covenant Eyes Violate Google’s “Accessibility Tool” Policy?
Wired magazine claimed that, since Covenant Eyes is not an “accessibility tool,” we were incorrectly utilizing the accessibility functions on the device. It is true that Covenant Eyes is not an “accessibility tool,” and we were using this function. However, it is not true that we violated the policy. Google’s policy allows non-accessibility apps to utilize the accessibility function in some cases:
“Other examples of apps that are not accessibility tools are: antivirus software, automation tools, assistants, monitoring apps, cleaners, password managers, and launchers. Apps not eligible for the IsAccessibilityTool attribute must meet the prominent disclosure and consent requirements described in Google Play’s User Data policy.”
Covenant Eyes carefully follows the disclosure and consent requirements in Google Play’s User Data policy. This means it’s difficult to install Covenant Eyes on someone’s device and track them without their consent. We understand that accountability software can be abused. We’ve developed our accountability tools for Android in compliance with Google’s app policies.
Is Covenant Eyes “Malware”?
Although Google labeled Covenant Eyes as malware at the time of our suspension, we believe this was a misunderstanding since we’ve been careful to follow Google’s developer guidelines. There are different categories of malware—none of which apply to Covenant Eyes.
Google describes spyware as “Code that transmits personal data off the device without adequate notice or consent.” Unlike spyware, the Covenant Eyes app includes prominent notifications to ensure it’s being used with the knowledge and consent of the member.
Google defines stalkerware as an app that sends data to a third party. Accountability allies who receive Covenant Eyes reports are more properly a second party because the member must seek them out and request that they accept this role.
We are not stalkerware by Google’s definition since we only send reports to member-designated allies, and not to third parties.
Not a “Monitoring App”
In their guidelines, Google defines “monitoring apps” as:
“Apps exclusively designed and marketed for monitoring another individual, for example, parents to monitor their children or enterprise management for the monitoring of individual employees, provided they fully comply with the requirements described below are the only acceptable monitoring apps.”
The key here is that we are not for monitoring “another individual.” We only scan devices by member’s request and with their permission. Therefore, Covenant Eyes is not a monitoring app based on this definition.
What Are Accountability Apps?
An accountability app helps you to leverage accountability to overcome an unwanted behavior—in our case, watching pornography. One study discovered that personal accountability made people 95% more likely to accomplish their goals. Many accountability apps now exist.
Recovery experts know that pornography addiction thrives in secrecy and shame. Voluntarily sharing your struggle with a trusted friend breaks the power of addiction. Our software facilitates these relationships to help people find victory. This kind of accountability has nothing to do with spying or forced monitoring, and we work hard to prevent anyone from misusing our service this way.
- See related: Is Accountability Software Just Shameware?
What’s the Difference?
Here’s a table that one of our developers created many years ago outlining the differences between accountability software and malware:
|Installed with the device owner’s express permission||Installed covertly on the device, often without the owner’s knowledge or permission|
|Person being held accountable knows they are being held accountable||Invisible to the person being spied upon|
|Sends information to an individual of the user’s choosing||Sends information without the user’s knowledge, to unknown parties|
|Sends reports designed to protect the user’s privacy||Gathers information regardless of privacy concerns|
|Installed with the computer owner’s express permission and knowledge||Installed covertly, often without the owner’s knowledge or permission|
|Easy to uninstall when the user decides to remove it||May be difficult to uninstall, or even require a third-party cleaning app to remove|
We’re Here to Help People Accomplish Their Goals!
We understand that our culture is slow to recognize that porn is bad and can’t understand why millions of people have committed to breaking free. But our mission is to help people who seek to regain control of their lives. We’re committed to helping restore relationships and transform lives.
Is Covenant Eyes in Google Play Now?
Yep. We’re happy to say that Google has again reviewed and approved our app for the Play Store. Since March 1, 2023, we’ve been back in the store. Just search for “Covenant Eyes” in the Play Store and you’ll find us.
- See related: How do I install Covenant Eyes on an Android™?