Google, which has been a favorite target of privacy advocates for the last few years, has taken another step that’s unlikely to endear the company to that crowd or Android users. The company has begun removing ad-blocking apps from the Google Play Android app market, apparently for violating the terms of service.

The Play terms of service say that app developers agree not to have their apps interfere with the apps or services of third parties, including Android users or Google. Ad-blocking apps, by their nature, do exactly that in order to block the use of cookies and other third-party content. There have been a number of ad-blocking apps in the Google Play store for some time, but developers of those apps began receiving notices from Google this week that their apps have been removed from the store and would not be allowed back in.

“I received an email from Google Play that AdAway was removed due to “Violation of section 4.4 of the Developer Distribution Agreement.” Thus, it will never be available on Google Play again,” the developers of AdAway said in a post on Google Code. AdAway is an open-source ad blocker for Android.

Jared Rummler, an Android app developer, said he received a similar message.

“Got a notification from Google and it looks like all Ad Blockers were removed from Google Play today,” Rummler said on a post on Twitter Wednesday.

Users can still install ad-blocking apps found in alternative third-party app stores, but that’s a riskier and less-convenient method than using Google Play.

Jon Oberheide“Based on my own experience with the Play Store, it seems that the ToS is often selectively applied. Section 4.4 is particularly vague and appears to be referenced whenever an app does something Google disagrees with. Developers are often left with little recourse to communicate with and appeal to the Android Developer Support team,” said Jon Oberheide, an Android security researcher, and co-founder of Duo Security.

“The ad-blocking apps can still be side-loaded on devices thankfully, but that distribution model is much more cumbersome for users and difficult for developers to provide easy application updates. Google could also decide to use it’s new Verify Apps functionality (introduced 4.2) to flag the app when side-loaded too, if they really wanted to declare war on ad-blockers.”

Google officials would not comment specifically on any apps being removed from Play.

“We remove apps from Google Play that violate our policies,” a Google spokesperson said in an email statement.

Categories: Mobile Security, Privacy

Comments (2)

  1. Anonymous

    Google has annoyed me recently with the forthcoming death of reader, and now this.. So now I do have adblock plus on my android devices… Your loss Google!

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