Google Hides Tethering Apps on Android Market for Carriers

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are suppressing wireless tethering applications in Google's Android Market, calling into question the openness of Android.

Google is hiding free tethering applications from users of its Android smartphones at the behest of carriers such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile, according to gadget blogs.

Tethering capabilities let people connect their laptops to the Web via their smartphones' Internet connections. The extra devices place added demands on carriers' 3G and 4G networks.

Verizon and AT&T charge wireless subscribers $20 extra per month for tethering. T-Mobile charges $15.

Google's Android Market includes free tethering apps such as Wireless Tether and PdANet. However, those apps conflict with Google's Android Market rules and so carriers have the right to ask Google to remove them or at least make them inaccessible to users.

This is apparently what has happened. Droid Life noted Wireless Tether was inaccessible from a Samsung Nexus S running on AT&T, and a Motorola Xoom tablet on Verizon. Former Engadget writer Chris Ziegler noted PdANet was blocked on devices such as Verizon's Motorola Droid and a T-Mobile LG G2 smartphone.

Verizon and AT&T both declined to say whether they asked Google to darken the tethering apps on the Market, referring eWEEK to Google on the matter.

While a Google spokesperson declined to say whether the carriers requested it remove the apps, Google did point to rules that suggested Wireless Tether and PdANet violate Android Market Developer Program Policies, which state:

"Applications must not create unpredictable network usage that has an adverse impact on a user's service charges or an Authorized Carrier's network. Applications also may not knowingly violate an Authorized Carrier's terms of service for allowed usage or any Google terms of service."

The way Google handles such violations, according to a person familiar with the Market, is that the apps are filtered or made unavailable to the users of any carrier that alerts Google to the conflict.

There is a reason why neither carriers are referring to Google and why Google is referring to its Android Market rules: the issue is tricky for any vendor or carrier who has argued for federated access to applications under the mantle of network neutrality.

Google fought particularly hard for this. As Ziegler pointed out. Google pushed Verizon to the brink in the 700MHz wireless spectrum three years ago. Google said at the time:

"Google's top priority heading into the auction was to make sure that bidding on the so-called 'C Block' reached the $4.6 billion reserve price that would trigger the important 'open applications' and 'open handsets license conditions."