The app world is a massive place. There are millions of applications and games between the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. It’s no surprise that some of them get into trouble every now and then. This year was a pretty big one for controversies. Some spanned almost the entire 2020, while others are still ongoing at the time of writing. The pandemic certainly didn’t help things, and even the FTC got into the mix a little bit. Let’s take a look at the most controversial apps and games from 2020.
1. ToTok is allegedly spying on people
ToTok, a popular chat app (not be confused with TikTok), was banned from the Google Play Store in January after The New York Times wrote an article presenting strong evidence that it was a spy app for the United Arab Emirates government. A lot of the app’s success came from the UAB government blocking similar features in other apps. Huawei promoted the app as well. It eventually made its way back to the Play Store in early January but was removed again in February. It remains gone from both Google and Apple’s app stores at the time of writing.
2. Google Photos eliminates unlimited backups
Credit: Joe Hindy / Android Authority
For years, Google Photos represented the best deal in mobile history. It let you upload and store your phone’s photos and videos at a slightly lower quality for free. Pixel devices were allowed to upload full-resolution photos and videos free of charge too, as one of the perks of owning the Google devices.
Related: The best Google Photos alternatives
However, Google brought an end to free uploads in 2020. It’s still available for the time being, but support stops June 1, 2021. Yes, that includes Pixel phones as well. After that, uploading photos will take up Google Drive space. You can always buy more Google Drive storage and keep it, but the free and unlimited perk was awesome. People were understandably upset. There are alternatives, but none of them are as easy or as accessible as Google Photos.
3. Google bans 600 apps, goodbye Cheetah Mobile
Apps and games get banned all the time. Google Play Protect alone prevents well over a billion installs of malware per year. However, there was something special about this batch. These 600 apps were banned for providing virtually no benefit to end-users and for existing only to serve as many ads as possible. Among those 600 was basically every Cheetah Mobile app on the Play Store. It’s kind of an open secret that Cheetah Mobile’s applications are mostly snake oil. Google’s banhammer finally proved it to everyone. Good riddance, Cheetah Mobile.
4. India bans a bunch of Chinese apps, including TikTok and PUBG Mobile
India and China are having some political differences at the moment. Part of the fallout was a mass banning of many Chinese apps from the Google Play Store in India. The list included some big hitters like most UC apps, WeChat, TikTok, ES File Explorer, most DU apps, and, ironically, Clean Master by Cheetah Mobile before it was removed everywhere. There was even an app (no longer available now) that told you which apps were Chinese so you could get rid of them. India would eventually add another 117 apps, including PUBG Mobile, to the list. A new version of PUBG specifically intended for the Indian market is in development, but with no final release date. This one is ongoing so you may well see more about it in our controversial apps list of 2021.
5. FTC wants to know how apps use your data
The FTC formerly ordered a bunch of online services to reveal how they use user data. The services in question include YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Reddit, and several others. It’s a veritable who’s who of tech giants. In addition, the FTC wants to know how each company uses that data to serve advertisements, how they study user engagement, and how their algorithms work. The inquiry could be a big deal since all these companies compete with each other. However, privacy is a huge concern for people these days so we’ll see how it turns out. This happened in December 2020 and it’s still ongoing at the time of writing.
6. Google retires Google Play Music in favor of YouTube Music
Credit: Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
We knew Google was replacing Google Play Music for YouTube Music last year. The saga didn’t officially unfold until this year, however. It took place on two fronts. On the one side, YouTube Music steadily gained a bunch of features from Google Play Music while the latter was being sunset. The transfer of power became official on December 4th when Google Play Music began truly shutting down for everyone.
Many Play Music customers hated the move. The whole process took such a long time that tempers had plenty of time to boil over during the transition. YouTube Music is improving, but it’s still far behind its predecessor in terms of features. Plus, the list of viable alternatives is rather short and requires multiple apps for anyone looking to replace every feature. A lot of people will miss Google Play Music, including me.
7. The COVID-19 exposure notification API
COVID-19 hit the world like a ton of bricks, and everybody is ready for 2020 to be over with because of it. The CDC recommended we all wash our hands, stay six feet apart, and wear masks. Meanwhile, Google and Apple tried to create a system to track who has COVID-19 and who was exposed. The contact tracing API was met with cynicism and skepticism since it was capable of tracking people and telling others who you came into contact with.
Google and Apple more or less squashed those worries by introducing a rulebook of sorts. However, the worst part is how long it’s taken governments to roll out apps that use the API to track the COVID-19 spread. Many states in the US don’t have it, and many regions around the globe never received an app either. Even in places where the apps exist, not many people use them. For instance, the Virginia version of the app only has 100,000 installs compared to its population of 8.5 million.
Most versions of the app have poor reviews citing the inability to record positive results, slow exposure updates, and not getting notifications when people know they were exposed by a loved one and the loved one reported it. It’s December 2020 and the number of cases is spiking worldwide. It’s clear this effort was a little bit late since a vaccine is coming soon. However, it’s built into iOS and Android, so maybe it’ll work better for the next pandemic.
8. The whole Zoom thing
When the world went into lockdown, video conferencing became a huge deal. Zoom arguably won out. Tons of companies, schools, and other organizations used it in lieu of face-to-face contact. Unfortunately, Zoom wasn’t ready for that much publicity. Zoombombing became a thing. People would join Zoom meetings without invites and do awful things. The video conferences weren’t encrypted and there were a host of other security issues.
Zoom eventually encrypted everything, but it took a very long time to get to that point. It eventually fixed a lot of its security woes and even locked people out if they didn’t update. There were efforts made to prevent Zoombombing as well, but not before a serious child endangerment issue. The company also had 500,000 accounts compromised and there was a lawsuit at one point. Still, Zoom managed to hit 300 million daily active users just a few months ago. It easily had one of the most ridiculous years we’ve seen a company go through in a long time.
9. The United States government versus TikTok
The US is embroiled in a trade war with China. Last year, the big deal was the US embargo on Huawei, and it was talked about ad nauseum. This year, the focus has shifted to the world’s fastest-growing social media network ever, TikTok. Everything started with some privacy concerns. The US government was worried that TikTok’s parent company would turn over sensitive user data to the Chinese government. Meanwhile, the app was banned in several countries due to “immoral content” and other concerns. Eventually, the US government decided to ban the app (along with WeChat), but it was halted at the last second at the behest of a federal judge.
In order to avoid the ban, TikTok had to sell to another company. Microsoft was in talks for the longest time, but it eventually partnered with Oracle so it could continue to operate in the US. However, the US government wanted to look over the code to make sure it was secure before it would approve the deal. Most of the controversy is over for now, but a lot of people still don’t trust TikTok.
10. Epic Games (and co.) versus Google and Apple
Welcome to a controversy that might well drag on for a few years. Fortnite originally launched on iOS in the App Store and as a standalone app on Android. It eventually migrated to Google Play in early 2020. A little while later, Epic Games tried to squeak in a payment method that circumvented the 30% cut Apple and Google take from developers. As a result, Apple kicked Fortnite out of the App Store followed swiftly by Google Play. Then all hell broke loose.
Epic Games immediately filed a lawsuit against Google citing anti-competitive practices. It also accused Google of crushing deals with LG and OnePlus to pre-load devices with Fortnite. Oh, and the company also sued Apple for basically the same thing. Apple made an estimated $360 million from Fortnite before the expulsion. It also compared Epic Games to shoplifters in one of the most bizarre lawsuit responses we’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, Google tightened its policies on in-app purchases to only using Google’s system, effective in early 2021.
Epic Games isn’t standing alone here. A group of Indian startups agrees that the 30% cut is too high for developers in India. Additionally, Microsoft joined Epic Games in the fight because Epic Games also develops the Unreal Engine. Epic Games and Spotify united with Tile, Match Group (Tinder, PlentyOfFish, OkCupid, Match.com), Deezer, Qobuz, and a ton of others to create the Coalition for App Fairness. Epic Games has been fighting the 30% tax for two years now, and while Apple did make some changes to its policies to drop the cut to 15% for smaller developers, the war is far from over. Don’t be surprised if it’s on this list in 2021 as well.
Check out controversial apps and games from previous years:
If we missed any big controversies, tell us about them in the comments! You can also click here to check out our latest Android app and game lists.