Google hit with EC antitrust complaint after booting privacy app from Play store

An app maker set up by former Googlers has filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission after being banned from Google Play.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The maker of a privacy app has lodged a complaint with the European Commission, alleging Google abused its dominance of Europe's mobile market by blocking its app from the Google Play app store.

The complaint was filed by Disconnect, a US app maker founded by ex-Google employees, after its Disconnect Mobile app was pulled from the Google Play app store last year.

Google advised the company last August that the app violated its developer distribution agreement for Google Play, which prohibits apps from interfering with other apps.

Disconnect CEO Casey Oppenheim claimed that Google removed the app because it threatened the search company's tracking and advertising business and "mistook us for an adblocker" - a category of apps that Google has previously removed from its app store.

"The Commission has received the complaint and will assess it," a spokesman for the EC's competition office said in a statement to ZDNet.

The complaint says that Google abused Android's dominance of the European mobile market to unfairly favour its own privacy and security software over Disconnect's app, according to the Wall Street Journal. It also claimed that the ban limits Europeans' access to privacy and security software, while allowing Google and others to track Android users and collect information on them for advertising purposes.

The report said Disconnect has asked the regulator to make Google give its app equal treatment to Google's own security services and let the app maker distribute its product on Google Play.

Of course, Android users can still sideload Disconnect if they want, but for security reasons, Google encourages Android users to disallow installs from outside the store. Oppenheimer told the WSJ that sales "plummeted" after was banned from Google Play.

A Google spokesperson told the paper the claims were "baseless". Google did not respond to a request for comment from ZDNet.

How Europe's competition regulator will proceed with the complaint remains to be seen. It could opt not to investigate the complaint, to add it to the EC's existing probe into Android, or to launch a separate investigation.

Disconnect's complaint touches on issues the European Commission is already investigating, including whether Google has abused its dominant position in Europe's mobile market to hinder rival mobile operating systems, apps, and services. Specifically, the EC's competition watchdog is looking into whether Google obliged handset makers to exclusively pre-install its own apps or services on their devices, prevented them from marketing modified versions of Android, and illegally bundled its own software with Android devices.

Elsewhere on the privacy front, Google is addressing complaints by users over permissions in Android. In 2013, Google blocked a feature known as App Ops in an update to Android 4.4 KitKat, which previously allowed users to choose which permissions to access hardware resources they granted to each app. It left users with only a choice to accept all permissions upon installation. Android M, the next version of the mobile OS which is due out later this year, will go someway to reintroducing the capability by encouraging developers to request permissions in their apps as needed.

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