Google Bans Disconnect.me App From Play Store Based On Vague Guidelines
from the not this again dept
Having had our own run-ins with Google’s opaque (and often hypocritical) decision-making process at times, it’s not surprising (though unfortunate) to hear of yet another case. The folks over at Disconnect.me have been working on tools to give people more control over their own data and how it’s shared. They’re not looking to stop all data sharing, but rather put it back under the control of the individual users, rather than companies in the middle. While this may make some companies nervous, it shouldn’t. A company that is actually providing value and is properly transparent shouldn’t have to worry about such things.
So it’s quite disappointing that Google has chosen to pull Disconnect.me’s new app from the Android store based only on a very vague and broad “prohibition” in its terms of service, saying that you can’t offer an app that “interferes with” other services. The email Google sent doesn’t provide many details, other than saying that the Disconnect.me app “interferes with or accesses another service or product in an unauthorized manner.”
Now, you can understand the basic rationale for why this term is in Google’s rules — the intent there is to block malicious activities. But what’s “malicious” in this context? Disconnect believes Google mistook its app as an adblocker:
But our mobile product (like our Desktop product) is not an adblocker. Instead Disconnect focuses on protecting people from invisible tracking and sources of malware, and all too often these threats come in the form of advertising. In fact, some of the most privacy invasive data collection online happens through ads, which see you even if you don?t see or interact with them. And worse, ad networks (including Google) are increasingly being used by ?advertisers? to spread malware. This increasingly popular tactic, called malvertising, is currently being investigated by the US Senate, and Disconnect Mobile is the first app to directly address it.
The fact is, we are not opposed to advertising and think advertising plays a critical role in the Internet economy. But we are 100% opposed to advertising that invisibly tracks people and compromises their security.
In short, Disconnect.me is working to block evil activities. You’d think that the company with the whole “don’t be evil” slogan would appreciate an app that tries to protect users from evil. But, as was the case when we got threatened with being cut off from ad revenue, it appears this is yet another case where you have a very large company that has put in place “by the book processes” that lead to a lack of common sense being employed. Instead you get checkmarks and bad end results. This all goes back to one of my biggest complaints about Google, going back years, that it continues to be the big white monolith when dealing with all sorts of users, customers and partners. Programs like AdSense and the Android Play Store are massive, and there are, certainly, those who look to abuse those systems. And so it’s no surprise that the company has put in place policies to help try to weed out those abuses — even leading to some false positives. The problem is that the company all too frequently doesn’t have any real second level of review where common sense comes back into play.
Disconnect.me is appealing the decision and seeing if it can get Google to reverse its position — and hopefully that happens. It still seems to me that this is one of Google’s most glaring problems as it has grown, and it’s shown little sign of improving on this front to date. I know that Google is especially sensitive to antitrust concerns being leveled against it, and I’m honestly confused why the company doesn’t view this as a potential concern on that front. When it has the ability to cut people off from areas where it has massive control (including the Android market and the advertising market), it’s only asking for trouble from those where it makes the wrong call.