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10 most controversial apps and games from 2021

Controversy in the app world is nothing new, but 2021 saw some absolutely mammoth problems go down.

Published onJanuary 2, 2022

REDMAGIC 6 fortnite
Gary Sims / Android Authority

The apps and games ecosystem is massive. Thus, it is no surprise that some have better years than others. The theme this past year seems to have been changes in policies. As companies grow and evolve, many have started questioning the status quo. However, we also saw the usual stuff, like massive outages, serious slip-ups, and just plain old bad decision-making. Here are the most controversial apps and games from 2021.

The most controversial apps and games in 2021

Roku vs YouTube TV

roku streaming stick 4k in hand
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Roku and YouTube had a bit of beef in the latter half of 2021. It started with a disagreement when Roku wanted some exceptions to YouTube’s technical requirements. After negotiations broke down, Roku removed YouTube TV from its channel list in April 2021, citing issues with Google. It also claimed Google wanted more user data than Roku was willing to give.

Check out: Roku buyer’s guide

Google responded with a blog post stating that Roku didn’t want to support open-source codecs (specifically the AV1 codec). This would prevent YouTube from working in 4K and 8K resolutions. Google then added a link for YouTube TV in the regular YouTube app so people could still get both for the time being.

The beef officially ended in December 2021 with a contract extension between the two companies. The extension came just one day before Google was set to remove YouTube from the Roku platform, leaving Roku with zero YouTube channels. Everything should go back to normal soon enough now that the multi-year agreement was reached.

Google Pay redesign

Google Pay screenshot 2021

Google made a lot of changes to Google Pay at the end of 2020, but the disaster didn’t strike until the company closed down the old Google Pay app in 2021. Ars Technica has a decent breakdown if you want the whole story, but here are the highlights.

The new Google Pay only worked through the app with no website support. You have to create a new account with your phone number to send money. Your friends need the app and new accounts to receive money. None of your existing Google Pay contacts transfer over to the new app. The new Google Pay charges you a fee to send money to your bank via debit card, whereas the old Google Pay did it for free. Google Pay’s new UI was not very friendly. The list goes on and on.

The changes and backlash caused a major upheaval in the Google Pay team. Dozens of employees and executives jumped ship after the failed redesign, causing even more instability than before. Google even canceled its plans for a bank account in October 2021. Things have cooled off for now, but we expect Google Pay to make some changes soon, or it’ll suffer the same fate as Google Plus or Google Allo.

Fortnite copies Among Us

Fortnite launched a new Imposters mode in 2021. It is basically a copy of Among Us. It isn’t illegal to copy game mechanics so Fortnite can make an Among Us game mode without legal repercussion.

However, Innersloth, developer of Among Us, had some stuff to say about how Fortnite went about it. Several team members criticized Fortnite for how blatant the copy is, right down to the use of the word imposter, how non-imposter players did chores to win the game, and how other players sniff out the imposters.

We’re not likely to see any legal repercussions from any of this. However, it does remind us that even huge game studios can shamelessly copy other games. Epic Games should’ve collaborated with Innersloth at the very least, and it definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Amazon Appstore was broken on Android 12

The Amazon Appstore download page.
Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

Google releases developer previews and betas of Android OS updates for a reason. Developers use them to get their apps ready for the next version of Android. Apparently, the Amazon Appstore developers didn’t quite get the memo.

The second-largest Android app store didn’t properly prepare itself for Android 12, and it didn’t work on the new OS. For the most part, the issue stemmed from Amazon’s DRM. It prevented people from opening apps downloaded from Amazon, even if they were downloaded before Android 12 was installed on the device.

Amazon fixed the problem a few days before Christmas in 2021. Thus, we can put this one to bed. Here’s hoping the Amazon developers get on the Android 13 developer previews when they become available early next year.

YouTube TV lost Disney channels for a week

Picture of YouTube TV on a Google Pixel.

Roku wasn’t YouTube TV’s only problem in 2021. The streaming service also had some issues securing a new contract with Disney. It was a contract for 18 channels, including the Disney Channel, FX, ESPN, National Geographic, ABC News Live, and others.

Here’s how it basically went. YouTube TV said that if a new contract wasn’t signed, it would remove those 18 channels and then drop the price by $15 per month to compensate. Disney called Google’s bluff, and a new contract wasn’t signed in time. The thing is, Google wasn’t bluffing, and it did remove those channels and lowered its price.

See also: Everything you need to know about Disney Plus

The channels stayed down for about a week, and then both companies came to a new agreement. Google added all 18 channels back to the lineup and added the $15 back onto the price. TV deals seem to be happening like this more frequently, with some cable ISPs dealing with similar situations with other networks. We’re glad this one got settled sooner rather than later, especially with all those sports channels going down as the NFL enters the later stages of its season.

YouTube doesn’t count dislikes anymore

an image of the youtube app on android showing the like and dislike count on a video
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

YouTube announced it would stop showing a dislike counter in 2021. This became a surprisingly big deal as creators and viewers online debated the pros and cons of such a move. Proponents of the move cited a lack of importance of a dislike counter and said it didn’t matter. YouTube also says not showing the numbers prevents dislike attacks from viewers.

People against the notion say the dislike counter lets people know if a video was good or not before investing lots of time watching it, making it a valuable tool. Also, creators can see the dislike counter in their analytics anyway, so any mental health improvement is cosmetic, not real.

Both sides have good points, and that’s why this one blew up as much as it did. YouTube didn’t backpedal its decision, though, and the dislike counter was removed on schedule. YouTube still encourages people to use the dislike button for the content they don’t like so the algorithm can continue to tune itself to the user.

Google Play antitrust lawsuits everywhere

Google Play Store 2021 2
Joe Hindy / Android Authority

Google Play was hit with several antitrust lawsuits in 2021. The biggest was in the US, where more than half of the states sued Google for anti-competitive practices. The states argue that the Google Play Store is decidedly dominant and that its dominance stifles competition from third-party app stores.

Google argues that its dominance helps encourage better performance from other app stores and that it plans to give third parties tools similar to the Play Store. Google also cited its changes to the service charge to show that it’s more friendly to developers.

Lawsuits like this can take a while to develop, so we may not see more for a while. States filed the lawsuit back in July 2021. We may hear more about all of this in 2022.

The big Facebook outage of 2021

Facebook app on phone 1

Facebook had a major league meltdown back at the beginning of November. The tech giant’s servers went down hard enough to take down Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp for most of a day. The story is actually pretty funny.

An update to Facebook’s servers caused an issue with the data centers communicating with each other. There was a cascading effect that took out everything. Everything went down so hard that employees couldn’t access parts of their own buildings. Things failed at such a level that even troubleshooting the problem was difficult. Eventually, the issue was sorted out, and everything went back to normal.

This was the cherry on top of a rough year for Facebook. The company, now under the umbrella of parent company Meta, faced the usual yearly scrutiny of security and privacy issues. However, that all stopped for a day as the world watched Facebook have its worst outage in over a decade.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

send whatsapp message without saving contact showing short link in browser
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

WhatsApp updated its privacy policy early in 2021. Usually, this isn’t a big deal. However, WhatsApp managed to screw it up pretty epically. The new changes allowed WhatsApp to better integrate with Facebook. As it turns out, everybody hated that.

The backlash was so intense that WhatsApp delayed the new privacy policy for a few months to let the dust settle. It was such a big deal that competing messaging apps with encryption, like Signal and Telegram, had several outages as lots of people migrated to the services. It got so bad that India, as a country, asked WhatsApp to withdraw the policy changes. WhatsApp would later take India, the country, to court after the government passed some new social media laws.

Ultimately, the policy rolled out, people reluctantly agreed to it, and things kind of went back to normal. However, in September, the issue came up again when the EU slapped the company with a $267 million fine for not telling its users about its data-sharing policies well enough. Later that same week, the company came under scrutiny for its content reviewal staff being able to see messages even though they are supposed to be encrypted.

In short, WhatsApp had a very rough year when you include the massive Facebook outage and smaller issues.

Fortnite vs Google Play and Apple’s App Store

POCO F2 Pro Fortnite in game

Epic Games decided to go to war with Google and Apple after a tumultuous 2020 saw Fortnite arrive in the Play Store, and then disappear from the Play Store and Apple App Store that same year. The fight continued into 2021. To start, both the App Store and Play Store lowered the service charges to 15% from the original 30% for apps and games that generate less than $1 million in revenue. The changes revert after an app or game reaches that point.

During the court fights, some information came about how Google initially handled Fortnite. Google is even on record telling Epic that sideloading is awful and that Epic shouldn’t do that for Fortnite.

Related: The best sideloaded apps for Android you can’t find in Google Play

Google also created a Fortnite Task Force specifically to find flaws in the game. Epic accused Google of making its findings public to make the game look bad, while Google said they did what they felt was responsible. Epic had already been rolling out a fix, and Google jumped the gun before the update was widely applied. There are plenty of other, smaller stories of the two companies taking jabs at each other throughout the year.

One of the things Epic fought for was alternative payment methods in the Play Store and Apple App Store. Right now, you can only use the default billing provided by both stores. Some strides were made in that area in South Korea, which passed a bill for it earlier this year. We anticipated it would last into 2021, and now we’re sure it’ll go into 2022 as well. Let’s see what happens.

If there are some other controversial apps and games we didn’t talk about that you think we should have, tell us about it in the comments. You can also check out our lists of the best apps and best games of 2021 at the links. Finally, we have a few roundups from previous years just below if you want to see more.

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