Google tells ad-blocking utilities on Android: "You're fired!" [POLL]

Filed Under: Android, Featured, Malware

The seedy side of the Android ecosystem has been much in the news recently.

We've seen fake versions of mainstream apps such as Instagram and Angry Birds in third-party app marketplaces.

And even Google's own Play Store has been blighted by approving and hosting malicious apps in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

So, just one year after the company's open-source programs manager, Chris DiBona, described anti-virus vendors as "charlatans and scammers", Google announced that it was baking an anti-virus system of sorts right into the Android operating system.

Clearly, Google doesn't want its users to be inconvenienced by dodgy and unwanted stuff.

That's good!

Unsurprisingly, however, Mountain View's view of what constitutes "inconvenience" and "unwantedness" doesn't extend to ads.

Quite the opposite, in fact: the search engine behemoth is vigorously defending its advertisers' airtime in the Android world.

Today, Google did a virtual impersonation of Donald Trump, sending a message to a number of popular ad-blocking programs that as good as shouted, "You're fired!"

Jared Rummler, author of the Ad Blocker utility, tweeted earlier:

Lest there be any doubt about Google's motivation, he uploaded his Dear Jared letter to Pastebin for all to see:

This is a notification that your application, Ad Blocker * Root *, with package ID, has been removed from the Google Play Store.

REASON FOR REMOVAL: Violation of section 4.4 of the Developer Distribution Agreement.

AdAway, an open-source ad blocker that doesn't do anything much more dramatic than to edit the Android hosts file to suppress ad-serving sites of your choice, similarly got the chop from the Play Store:

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. Please switch to F-Droid, the open alternative to Google Play!

The relevant part of Google's Developer Distribution Agreement seems to be the rather broad requirement that 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.

This, of course, raises the spectre of a future ban against third-party anti-virus and security software, such as Sophos's own Sophos Mobile Security and Anti-Virus.

After all, many Android security add-ons include features allowing users to control a range of potentially unwanted activities.

The behaviour that third-party security software is expected to regulate includes anything that introduce a risk of:

  • Reducing safety and security, for example by storing or transmitting user data inappropriately.
  • Racking rack up unexpected charges, for example through pricy SMSes.
  • Putting you in harm's way by linking to potentially dangerous websites.
  • Installing software that is overly annoying or intrusive, at least in the user's opinion.

Clearly, preventing any of the above constitutes some sort of interference with another vendor's services in the market, whether that vendor is a software development company, a mobile phone network or a web provider.

To be fair to Google, of course, a ban from the Play Store doesn't prevent you from using the banned app altogether, as it would on Planet Apple.

Google still gives you the choice to install software from alternative online markets.

Nevertheless, it would be a pity if third-party security software providers were forced to follow the ad-blocker programmers out into the comparative wilderness beyond the Play Store.

We'll just have to wait and see just how even-handed (and open-minded) Google will be with security vendors, and, indeed, if the company will relent and let the ad-blockers back.

Have your say

Should Google back down and recognise that ad-blocking software is something that a well-rounded mobile marketplace ought to tolerate, just as it tolerates ads in the first place?

Or should it defend its revenue-sharing advertisers even in the face of a minority of paying customers who prefer not to be bombarded with marketing?

Have your say in our poll...

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14 Responses to Google tells ad-blocking utilities on Android: "You're fired!" [POLL]

  1. Freida Gray · 904 days ago

    I suspect that this is a reaction to the fine Google got hit with recently.The policy existed when the ad blockers were put on the Play Store,Google knew the ad blockers would "interfere" with third party ( their ) software, & Google still allowed the ad blockers in the "store".

  2. This is expected behavior. The Android ecosystem is huge, yet Google is not able to capitalize upon it as much as Apple does with their ecosystem.

    So, expect more behavior like this so Google can make the money it feels it deserves for the platform. And expect more people to root their Android devices in response, or simply avoid any Google add-ons.

  3. Vot · 904 days ago

    I must agree with Google - even though I'm using an ad blocker myself, they have every right to protect some revenue of developers of apps given away for free.

    Of course I do prefer a no-ad environment just as a next person, however it seems a bit wrong to question their motive behind this. As annoying as ads are, you have to be thankful to developers for letting us use the fruit of their work for free and an ad isn't really that much of a sacrifice, is it?
    It would be nice to see ads restricted to start screens and perhaps settings, but that's not really subject of this debate.

  4. JonG · 904 days ago

    In my opinion, if a company wants to offer something for free, it should be free. If they want to offer something that is "ad supported" then that is fine, there should be an "ad supported" section.

    Ads cost bandwidth, they also introduce problems like malware. If a person wants to take this risk on their phone, or support the app developer, then they can get the "ad supported" version or pay for it.

    I'm not sure why SEVERAL apps require permissions to view phone state and identity, network location, etc. with this in the same agreement "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."

    IF these apps are okay why isn't the ad-blocking app. I am giving you permission to install the app on the device knowing that it can access various personal items on my phone, I am also giving an ad blocker permission to effectively do the same thing... why is there a difference?

  5. Jonathan · 904 days ago

    Ad blockers help speed up browsers and help stop crap from getting on your pc i block add url at my firewall and dns if you are on my network its add free. ads come with spyware popups and ad ware if u want to block software Google try blocking the ad ware popups and the bad stuff. If advertisers where not so pushy to start with i mean popups and banners and adware we would not need to block. You wont make money off my browser just block doubleclick and a few others at the gateway or dns filter

  6. Heh. What do you expect from a company whose sole profitable line of business is selling billboard space on the Information Highway?

  7. Theistus · 904 days ago

    As an attorney, I might take issue with Google's interpretation of the Agreement. No matter, can still just sideload the ad-blockers very easily, they are just making it a tad harder.

    But if Google is going to take this step, I would like to see them step in to make other parties software behave and not serve up a metric shiteload of adware, push notificiations, and battery killing wakelocks and network traffic. Now THAT would be worthy of their attention. And maybe then, ad blockers wouldn't be necessary.

  8. Martin · 904 days ago

    I've had mixed results with ad-blocking apps. Most break at least one app on my phone and I was disturbed to learn about one that piped traffic via the developers server to remove ads. I've uninstalled them all now.

    My second conern is the affect ad-blockers will have on the ecosystem. If developers income stream from ads is reduced too much then many free or "lite" (ad supported) apps could disappear. The cost of Pro version Android apps is significantly less than is paid by my friends who were suckered in to buying iOs devices. So, on balance, I'm happy to pay the cost of Pro upgrades to remove the ads, save on data usage, improve my battery life and help future development work.

  9. I installed Adaway from F-droid, just because it was banned from Google Play to show that I am against removing it.

    I have used F-Droid over year.

    I will buy donate versions of apps which I like when I get credit card / something else which is accepted by Google Wallet.

  10. Wolf_Star · 903 days ago

    I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing ads baked into our bread or we'll need to listen to an ad before being connected to a 911 operator.

    We already have people wearing clothes and/or accessories with brand names on them like they're some sort of chic design, and paying big bucks to do so. I've never understood the desire to do that; to me it smacks of desperation - "look at me, I'm cool!"

    I understand the desire for someone making a buck, but there's got to be a point at which enough is too much.

  11. Adrian · 903 days ago

    Google don't seem to care at all that there's lots of malware, junk apps and other useless garbage on their store. If they did the proportion of apps with ads might go down which would cut their profits. Work on ad-blockers would just continue elsewhere, for example. How many apps would people delete for having intrusive adverts cluttering the screen?

  12. Effraim · 895 days ago

    Google ia a arrogant and aggressive company in regards to the Andriod platform. It's my phone and my bandwidth. I pay for apps when paying is an option. When it's not; I rely on ad blocking software to do it for me. Google play can go sit on a nail.

  13. John03063 · 895 days ago

    I'm a big fan of ad blocking for my computer, but I never thought about installing it on my Android devices. Now that Google has told me I can't have it, I'm going to find it and install it - on all of them !

  14. Cruz · 889 days ago

    Ads are a huge and the main type of getting revenue from free apps, ( i said the main not the only for some stupid people out there), so developers as i am , thank god they banished those stupid ad blockers!!! HURRRA!!

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog