Google Play Store Pulls Apps That Block Ads

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-03-14

Google Play Store Pulls Apps That Block Ads

Google has removed at least four apps from its Google Play Store that had allowed users to block advertisements that appear when using their Android devices.

The reports of the ad-blocking app removals have come from the developers of several of the apps, including at least one developer, Adblock Plus, which issued a March 14 press release criticizing the move.

"Adblock Plus reported today that Google has removed all ad-blocking apps for Android, including Adblock Plus, from the Google Play Store," the statement said. "Adblock Plus claims that this unilateral move by Google threatens consumer choice."

In an email to the developer, Google said that the ad-blocking app violates Section 4.4 of the store's Developer Distribution Agreement, which prohibits the development or distribution of products that "interferes with, disrupts, damages, or accesses in an unauthorized 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."

Till Faida, co-founder of Adblock Plus, said in a statement that Google has been unfairly targeting such apps in recent months and that this move marks the third time Adblock itself has been hit with attacks by Google.

"[T]oday's action is the third in a string of actions that Google has taken against our open-source product: in late February Google began forcing Android users to manually configure a proxy server in order to run Adblock Plus; in December 2012 Google re-categorized Adblock Plus in the Chrome Web store and stopped showing it in search results when users specifically looked for the extension; and when Adblock Plus re-listed as an app on December 12th, Google took it down again 12 hours later," Faida said.

"I realize that advertising revenue is important to Google, but understand that Adblock Plus does not automatically block all ads; we simply allow users the choice whether to block ads or whitelist them," Faida said. "We even encourage advertising that is done appropriately and conforms to an Acceptable Ads policy, which is debated and decided in an open public forum. By unilaterally removing these apps, Google is stepping all over the checks and balances that make the Internet democratic. People should be really alarmed by this move."

The disappearance of the app from the Google Play Store doesn't mean that users can't download it and use it, though. Adblock Plus is still available for free from the Adblock Plus Website. The app is an open-source project that has been downloaded more than 200 million times and which plugs into Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Android browsers, according to the company.

A spokesperson for the company could not be reached by eWEEK today for further comment.

Meanwhile, a Google spokesperson said in an email reply that the company does not comment on individual app removals from its Google Play Store. "We remove apps from Google Play that violate our policies," the spokesperson stated.

At least one other developer of an ad-blocking app also publicized Google's action.

Jared Rummler, the developer of AdAway, posted on Twitter March 13 after he received a notice from Google about the action. "Got a notification from Google and it looks like all Ad Blockers were removed from Google Play today," wrote Rummler.

Google Play Store Pulls Apps That Block Ads

In an update on an AdAway Webpage, Rummler wrote that his app "was removed due to 'Violation of section 4.4 of the Developer Distribution Agreement.' Thus, it will never be available on Google Play again."

In response, he wrote, users who are seeking the app can find it instead through "F-Droid, the open alternative to Google Play."

Several other ad-blocker apps were also removed by Google Play, including AdBlocker and AdFree, according to a story by TechCrunch.

A huge portion of Google's revenue comes from ad revenues, so the ability of advertisers to get their ads in front of viewer's eyeballs is huge for the company.

Google Play, which was created in March 2012 to combine what until then were separate sites where Android lovers could buy their favorite apps, music and ebooks, has been a huge hit.  Before Google Play, users had to shop through the individual Android Market, Google Music and the Google e-Bookstore sites.

By September 2012, Google Play had served up more than 25 billion downloads to app- and game-hungry Android users, reaching a significant milestone in only six months.

According to Google, the 1 billion Android app download mark was reached in mid-2010, while the 2 billion app download mark was hit in mid-2011. That number soared to 10 billion by the end of 2011, then to 15 billion in early 2012, before soaring again to 25 million in September.

Google Play hosts more than 675,000 apps and games, up from about 450,000 in March 2012, according to Google.

Google Play has been Google's answer to the App Store as both companies are locked in a fierce battle for the lion's share of the mobile-device market. Google also faces a rising threat from Microsoft, which is planning to issue tablets running Windows 8 in late 2012.

In the global smartphone market for the third quarter of 2012, Google's Android was the mobile OS of choice on 75 percent of the 181.1 million smartphones that shipped around the world, which was five times the 14.9 percent market share of Apple's iOS for the same period, according to IDC analysts.

Those figures show remarkable progress for the four-year-old Android OS against competition that includes the still-strong popularity of Apple iOS, a drastically smaller BlackBerry market, Microsoft's multiple Windows Phone efforts and the rest of a straggling field.

Android use has been going through the roof worldwide. In fact, Android hit 500 million device activations overall in mid-September 2012, just as Apple's latest iPhone 5 was about to launch.

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