Disconnect Files Antitrust Action Against Google in EU

Disconnect Inc. alleges that its products were unfairly banned from the Google Play store. Google said Disconnect's allegations are baseless.

Disconnect complaint against Google

Disconnect Inc., which makes privacy apps for mobile and desktop users, has accused Google of using its dominant position in the Android and mobile markets to unfairly shut Disconnect's products out of the Google Play store.

In a complaint filed with the European Commission's Competition Directorate, Disconnect alleged that Google banned Disconnect's applications from its mobile application store, citing a policy violation while unfairly promoting a similar technology of its own.

Google and others currently track vast amounts of personal data about Android users and the applications they use, officials at Disconnect said in a statement announcing the action against Google. Increasingly, cyber-criminals are using the mechanisms that Google and the others are employing to track users to distribute malicious advertising and other malware, the statement said.

Last August, Disconnect released a mobile application designed to block browsers from secretly tracking users for targeted ad delivery purposes. Disconnect's software is meant to also block malware lurking in mobile applications. It only blocks apps that are potential sources of malware or apps that secretly track users without the user's knowledge or consent, the company claimed.

However, Google banned the application from its Play store, citing violations of its developer agreements and claiming that Disconnect's application interfered with advertisements served in third-party apps.

Casey Oppenheim, CEO of Disconnect, said his company does not oppose online advertising. "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," he said in the statement.

In its complaint, Disconnect asked the EU commission to "compel" Google to treat Disconnect's applications and technology as the same as Google's own security and privacy products in the Play store.

A Google spokesman, meanwhile, called Disconnect's allegations baseless. Google has long had a policy of prohibiting applications that interfere with other apps by altering their functionality or blocking their ability to make money, the company said in an emailed statement. "We apply this policy uniformly—and Android developers strongly support it," the statement said. "All apps must comply with these policies and there are over 200 privacy apps available in Google Play that do."

Disconnect's complaint against Google comes just weeks after the Competition Office at the European Commission, which is responsible for overseeing industry trade practices in the EU, sent Google a formal statement of objections outlining concerns raised by others over the company's trade practices.

One of the main complaints in the document was that Google gives preferential treatment to its own products on its comparison shopping site when people use the company's general search engine to search for products.

Google has strongly rebutted the claims and noted that complaints about its unfairly leveraging its market clout to discriminate against other products are not supported by facts.

Similar concerns prompted the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation against Google about three years ago. That investigation lasted 19 months, but no formal charges were brought against Google.

Disconnect is headquartered in San Francisco, so it is not immediately clear why it has filed a complaint with the EU. Disconnect did not respond immediately to a request seeking clarification on the issue.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.