Last week Google removed all ad-blocking apps from the Play Store, triggering outcries from many Android developers and fans. One of the affected apps, Adblock Plus, released a new version of their ad-blocker for direct download today. Many fans of Adblock Plus will no doubt be upset; the company gained just under one million users within the three months of being in the Play Store.
They’re not the first company to circumvent Google’s Play Store to push updates. Last week, Facebook quietly began testing pushing updates directly to its Facebook app for Android.
Google’s official response to the removal of ad-blockers cites section 4.4 of the Android Developer Distribution Agreement. Here’s what it states:
“You agree that you will not engage in any activity with the Market, including 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.”
Image credit: Linkedin
I emailed the co-founder of Adblock Plus, Till Faida, about the future of Adblock Plus and what this move means for consumers.
Here’s what he had to say.
Lewis Leong: Thank you for taking time out of your day for this interview, Mr. Faida. What was the company’s initial reaction after learning that Google pulled all ad blockers from the Play Store?
Till Faida: We feel it is very alarming that Google, a company that largely controls access to products and information on the internet, puts their business interests on top of accessibility and freedom of choice.
LL: WhatsApp, Facebook, and Adblock have updated apps without using the Play Store this week. Is this a developing trend and do you think Apple and Google are putting too many limits in their app store policies?
TF: Absolutely. That is why we are very disappointed in this move from Google. Google always set themselves apart from Apple, by being the ‘open’ platform. Apparently, both companies want to control what users can do with their devices, taking away choices from the user is bad for the ecosystem.
LL: How quickly did Adblock decide to release the app as a direct download instead?
TF: We started working on that immediately. We believe all Android users should be free in deciding which apps they want to use, and have easy access to them.
LL: Are you currently in contact with Google about getting Adblock back in the Play Store?
TF: Not yet. But we are open to discuss this with Google if they are interested in a solution that respects user’s choices.
LL: Was Adblock aware that ad blockers inherently violated Google’s terms of service?
TF: The alleged reason why Google took down Adblock Plus was because of a violation of section 4.4 of the Developer Distribution Agreement, which prohibits interfering other apps. But Adblock Plus is not manipulating other apps, we just provide users with a tool to control which kind of adservers are allowed to access to their device. By the same logic, antivirus apps or firewalls would have to be removed.
LL: How do you think this move will affect Adblock for browsers?
TF: We don’t know yet, we just hope that Google understands that users will not let them get away with limiting their choices to maximize profits. If they did the same on Chrome, I’m sure millions of people wouldn’t hesitate to switch to Firefox.
LL: Will being pulled from the Play Store affect development of the app?
TF: No. A new version is already available on our website adblockplus.org and we plan to submit the app on alternative appstores such as F-Droid. Ads on mobile devices are becoming increasingly intrusive and a security risk. Although it is now more difficult for people to find the app, we remain committed to provide users with a choice over who should get access to their phones.
LL: Thanks so much for answering my questions