Update: VentureBeat received information from a source, shedding a little more light on the situation.
A source close to the situation indicates that Google considers this a “unique case” because two apps are required to invoke the ad blocking. Furthermore, the source adds that Google has no problem with browsers which can block ads within themselves via built-in functionality (like Adblock Browser) or via plugins.
Earlier in the week, Samsung’s new browser API meant developers, if they wanted to, could build ad-blocking apps to work alongside the browser. It’s similar to the ad-blocking feature Apple introduced in iOS 9 with Safari, which lead to a number of ad and tracker-blocking apps become popular within the first few weeks of iOS 9’s arrival.
With this feature added, more developers could develop standalone ad-blockers for Android which work with Samsung‘s mobile browser. It turns out however, that Google has pulled some apps, and rejected updates for others. It seems the company isn’t keen on having standalone apps — designed to work alongside browsers to block ads — on the Play Store…
After Samsung’s announcement, a company named Rockship Apps developed and launched Adblock Fast, which quickly became the top free productivity app on the Play Store. But just a couple of days later, the app has been pulled by Google, with the search giant citing a violation of Section 4.4 of the Android Developer Distribution Agreement.
You agree that you will not engage in any activity with the Store, including the development or distribution of Products, that interferes with, disrupts, damages or accesses in an unauthorised 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. You may not use customer information obtained from the Store to sell or distribute Products outside of the Store.
Brian Kennish, CEO of Rockship Apps says that he tried contacting Google many times to get more clarity on which specific functions of his app were violating the agreement. Google’s app reviews team said he could resubmit after modifying it so that it didn’t “interfere with another app, service or product in an unauthorized manner.” Other contact attempts have been unsuccessful, and almost always replied by auto-responders.
Considering Google’s main source of revenue is still ads, it’s not surprising to hear the company is clamping down on individual apps launching on the Play Store. Especially if those particular apps become really popular in a short space of time, there’s no knowing how much of its own income it would be cutting off if it were to allow ad-blocking apps free reign.
Given that Adblock Fast was downloaded around 50,000 times after launch and achieved a 4.25 rating, Kennish believes his particular app was rejected due to its success, and the threat that caused to Google’s ads business.
Another developer, Dean Murphy, who created the Crystal ad-blocker tried pushing an update to his app recently, but Google rejected it, once again citing section 4.4.
Speaking to TechCrunch, when reached for comment, a Google spokesperson merely stated that “While we don’t comment on specific apps, we can confirm that our policies are designed to provide a great experience for users and developers.” In other words, it’s not ready or willing to talk about it yet.
Google doesn’t seem to be taking as strong an approach to third party browsers with built-in ad-blocks, suggesting it’s not happy with standalone extension-type ads which hook on to other browsers to block advertisements. Still, given the vagueness of its responses to developers, we wouldn’t be surprised if it started to shut those down too.