Looks like Disconnect won a battle but lost the war to sell its app in Google’s Android app store.
One day after lifting a ban on Disconnect Mobile and allowing the app back into the Play store, Google reinstated the ban and booted the app out again, CEO Casey Oppenheim told Business Insider.
In that day the app was downloaded 20,000 times, Oppenheim says. The app keeps ads from tracking Android users without their consent or installing malware.
Oppenheim is frustrated, saying Google isn’t giving clear guidance on how to fix the app.
“The vague reasons and terms they cited make no sense, and despite our pleas for a clear explanation they refused to plainly state why our app was pulled or what we could do to come into compliance,” he said.
Google told Disconnect that the app appeared to be an ad blocker and that’s why Google banned it.
Google gives Android away for free and makes its money selling ads. It doesn’t want to host or promote apps that could harm its advertising revenue or that of other developers’ Android apps, sources told Business Insider. It has famously removed ad-blocking apps from its app store before.
In an email shared with Business Insider, Google told Disconnect:
The Disconnect Mobile application interferes with other applications, because it blocks the policy compliant ad serving functionality in third party apps available on the store.
Disconnect says it is not an ad blocker, it is a security and privacy tool. Honest ads not trying to install stuff would not be blocked, the company says.
Disconnect is well aware of the kinds of nasty things that can get loaded on a device disguised as an ad. 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.
Disconnect says it specifically wrote the app to comply with Google’s rules.
No matter. On Sept. 8, Disconnect got an email from Google saying the app violates its rules and has been yanked.
So if you want this app, looks like you’ll have to download it yourself from the company’s website.
Here’s the email from Google telling Disconnect that its app has been booted, again:
Date: Mon, Sep 8, 2014 at 10:50 PM
Subject: RE: [4-4773000004600] Regarding your Google Play App Suspension Appeal
To: Casey Oppenheim
Cc: Patrick Jackson
Thank you for your reply. As stated previously, we’ve reviewed both apps and re-affirm both are in violation of Google Play Developer Terms. Apps found in non-compliance will be removed from the store. We’ve provided you an opportunity to voluntarily unpublish me.disconnect.mobile2 while you work through these details, however, failure to remove the app in non-compliance will result in administrative removal, and potential termination of your developer account for repeat violations.
The information we’ve provided in our prior note is in direct response to the specific question in your previous email:
“…we need to better understand the meaning of “policy compliant ad serving functionality in third party apps available on the store”. Is there documentation or a specification that defines this? Once we have a better understanding of this term, we will revise the app accordingly and insure compliance if possible.”
The policy non-compliance of your application was communicated within the suspension notification of your prior app, me.disconnect.mobile. This violation also applies to the me.disconnect.mobile2 application. After review, they were determined to be in violation of Developer Distribution Agreement 4.4 Prohibited Actions:
“…You agree that you will not engage in any activity with the Market, including the development or distribution of Products, that interferes with, disrupts, damages, or accesses in an unauthorised manner the devices, servers, networks, or other properties or services of any third party including, but not limited to, Android users, Google or any mobile network operator…”
Please note this is a final warning of app removal.
The Google Play Team
Here’s Disconnect’s appeal to Google explaining why they don’t think the app violates Google’s policies:
abuse_type–other: 4.4 of Developer Distribution Agreement
Our Google Play Developer Console account is still active. We are appealing the removal of one our applications, Disconnect Mobile, which is an essential privacy and security tool. Our technology relies on the VpnService API made publicly available by Google since API level 14.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of other applications that utilise the same API. In addition, we utilise this API to provide a better experience and allow users to enjoy the privacy and security benefits of a VPN without many of the drawbacks associated with VPNs.
We are a small startup and spent over a year developing this application, with particular focus on not utilising any technology that would violate PlayStore guidelines.
We believe this removal was erroneous and arbitrary for the reasons stated above and ask that the suspension be lifted. We respectfully request a prompt reply, as I’m sure you can appreciate that being rejected from the PlayStore has been a traumatic experience for our team.