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Disconnect files EU anti-trust complaint against Google

Disconnect Inc., a company that makes privacy protecting software, is fighting back after its Android apps were pulled from Google's Play store.

Disconnect's mobile app is designed to prevent non-consensual third-party trackers from collecting detailed profiles of how you use your Android phone (much like EFF's Privacy Badger does in Firefox or Chrome). Additionally, whenever an app on your phone tries to download malvertising (malware distributed using advertising networks, including Google's Doubleclick network and others), Disconnect intercepts the request and blocks it. Disconnect is even one of the few apps to protect against both Verizon's injected IDs and Turn's resultant 'zombie cookies'. However Google has removed Disconnect from the Play store, claiming it violates their terms of service—specifically a section which forbids the distribution of apps that interfere with or disrupt the services of any third party.

As we've explained before, Google seems to be enforcing this clause in order to put its own profits ahead of the privacy of its users. By banning Disconnect Google has effectively said that users don't get to control what data their phones transmit to third parties, if that control depends on apps distributed through the Play store.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that an enormous number of Android users are stranded with old versions of the operating system. Earlier this year Google announced that it would no longer develop or distribute patches for security vulnerabilities in its WebView library, which is used to serve many ads in Android apps, for version 4.3 or less of the OS. This affects the majority of Android devices and as many as 930 million users. These unfixed vulnerabilities allow malicious advertising to seize control of ad serving apps, with all the same privileges that were granted to it by the user. Since advertising is the distribution method chosen by many malware authors for exploit payloads, Google's censorship of Disconnect and similar apps denies almost a billion users access to tools that would defend them against real and present dangers that Google is no longer willing to address.

In response Disconnect has filed a complaint in the EU under competition law (called antitrust in the U.S.). Disconnect has formally called Google out for abusing its monopoly powers and putting profit ahead of user choice. We at EFF believe users' rights to safety and privacy should come before profit, and we wish Disconnect luck in their effort.

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