Back in September 2014, Android Headlines ran a story about developer Disconnect.Me complaining about Google pulling an application from the Google Play Store. Roll forward eight months and the developer has filed a complaint with European regulators claiming that Google is abusing its position as the maker of Android. Google originally removed the Disconnect application from the Play Store because the application interferes with other applications on the device. This is because the Disconnect application routes traffic through its own virtual private network, which is used to block advertising, tracking services and suspected malware sites. This is from both the web browser(s) on the Android device and applications, which is where Disconnect falls foul of Google’s rules. At the time, Disconnect accused Google of using a vague and broad rationale and thought Google felt the application threatened its tracking and advertising business model, neatly circumventing the $300,000 that had been invested into the Disconnect business (which of course has its own business model). The full Disconnect service is available for $5 a month or $50 a year subscription.
What happens now? The European Commission has received the complaint and will assess it. Disconnect alleges that Google unfairly discriminates by favoring its own privacy and security software and limits access to competing software, because Google’s ruling prevents Europeans from other privacy software (yet the offending application, Disconnect.Me, is available from Disconnect’s website). Google refute Disconnect’s claim, “This reported claim is baseless,” and reminding the world that Google Play policies have long prohibited applications from interfering with other applications. The long and short of it is that application developers are not permitted to let their applications remove ways of making money, that they are uniformly applied and there are over two hundred privacy applications available in Google Play.
Disconnect state: “We don’t oppose advertising and understand ad revenue is critically important to many Internet companies, publishers and developers, but users have the right to protect themselves from invisible tracking and malware, both of which put sensitive personal information at risk. Advertising doesn’t have to violate user privacy and security.” When asked what Disconnect is seeking from the suit, the company responded with: “We want what the lawyers call ‘equal treatment.’ We want Android users to be able to get our products quickly and easily through the Play Store and we want to be fully supported by Google, just like other apps in the Store.” However, whilst Disconnect is filing the complaint in Europe at the same time as the wider European Commission-led anti-trust investigation, and is quick to cite studies for the US Senate highlighting the dangers of online advertising, Disconnect is not filing any complaint in the United States of America, or indeed in any other market.