Now that the European Commission is investigating Google for possible anti-trust violations, a tiny startup called Disconnect thinks the time is right to strike at the giant, too.
Disconnect has filed an antitrust complaint against Google in Europe over Google’s decision to ban Disconnect’s privacy app from the Google Play app store last fall, not just once, but twice.
It wants the EU to force Google to put its app back in Google’s Play store.
Google’s app store hosts hundreds of privacy apps that help Android users see and control the kinds of data being shared with other apps. But Disconnect Mobile blocks ads from doing anything nefarious such as installing malware or secretly tracking an Android user.
And that’s what got it kicked out.
Google has called the complaint “baseless,” and told Disconnect that the app was banned because it violated the Play Store developer agreement because it interfered with ads served up by other developer’s apps.
Google doesn’t charge licensing fees for Android. It makes its money selling ads and it won’t host or promote apps that interfere with advertising revenue or that of other developers’ Android apps, it told Business Insider. It has famously removed ad-blocking apps from its app store before.
The company sent us this statement:
This reported claim is baseless. Our Google Play policies (specifically clause 4.4) have long prohibited apps that interfere with other apps (such as by altering their functionality, or removing their way of making money). We apply this policy uniformly — and Android developers strongly support it. All apps must comply with these policies and there’s over 200 privacy apps available in Google Play that do.
Still, Disconnect insists that it is not an ad blocker and that it only blocks an ad that is doing nasty stuff.
“There are many online ads that don’t violate user privacy or present serious security risks, and we don’t block these types of ads,” Casey Oppenheim co-founder and CEO of Disconnect told Business Insider.
Oppenheim tried for weeks to get Google to give Disconnect clear guidance on how to fix the app so that it would meet with Google’s approval.
At first Google relented, let the app back in the store where it was promptly downloaded 20,000 times. But within 24 hours Google changed its mind and banned the app again, this time permanently. (Here are the emails Google sent to Disconnect, informing the startup its app was being removed.)
Disconnect knows the nasty things an ad can secretly do. Cofounder Brian Kennish spent seven years working as an early DoubleClick/Google engineer, helping to create the company’s first mobile ad server. Another member of the team, Patrick Jackson, once worked on mobile technologies at the NSA.
Without the EU investigation, Disconnect wouldn’t have otherwise had much recourse for complaint. But now discontented Android developers like Disconnect feel like they have an audience for their complaints about Google.
Meanwhile, Disconnect is distributing the iPhone version of the app through Apple’s App store and a Mac, PC and Android version through its own website. All told, it says it has 10 million users.