Google has changed its mind and allowed an app it previously banned from Google Play, called Disconnect Mobile, back into its app store.
The app blocks advertisements from planting tracking software onto your computer without your consent. Many times, such tracking software contains viruses and other malware.
The technology that powers the app was designed by Disconnect’s CTO Patrick Jackson, a former NSA engineer.
Google didn’t explain why it changed its mind to the app’s creators; it merely accepted the app back into the app store. In a press release, the company says:
Google initially removed Disconnect Mobile from the PlayStore citing nothing more than “interference with other services,” a decision that led to a deluge of global media reports and an uproar on social media. Google has not specifically replied to Disconnect’s appeal or requests for comment by major media outlets. Industry consensus is that Disconnect Mobile was suspended because it was mistaken for an ad blocker, and so Disconnect resubmitted their app to make it clear that they are not an ad blocker and are focused on protecting consumer privacy. Disconnect Mobile is again available for install in the Play Store, as well as iTunes.
Google, which gives Android away for free and relies on advertising for the bulk of its income, has famously removed ad-blocking apps from its app store before. It also doesn’t want to host or promote apps that could harm the advertising revenue of other developer’s Android apps, it told Business Insider.
Privacy watchdog organisation The Electronic Frontier Foundation said blocking an app like Disconnect was a real problem:
… many online advertisers participate in this sneaky tracking in order to build up reading profiles of users for marketing purposes, whether users have opted in or not. As a result, Disconnect Mobile blocks these types of ads — even though ad-blocking is incidental to its primary goal. Because of this, Google has deemed Disconnect Mobile to be “interfering” with these sneaky third-party services — services its users don’t want.
But the about-face is a good sign that Google won’t sacrifice people’s privacy or security for the all-important advertising industry. Maybe Google is even open to the EFF’s suggestion that it officially change its policy:
Google could easily re-write their policy to allow apps in the Play Store that, at the direction of Android users, block third-party tracking systems while still allowing advertisements that respect user’s privacy preferences.