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A developer says Google just kicked their app off its Play Store after they worked with Congress on its antitrust investigation

Aug 1, 2020, 04:34 IST
Business Insider
YouTube/House Judiciary
  • An email app created by developers who accused Apple and Google of unfair treatment in the past was just kicked off the latter's Play Store days after its creators went public about their cooperation with lawmakers in an ongoing antitrust investigation.
  • "If this isn't retaliation due to our role in the congressional hearing, then what is?" Blix cofounder Ben Volach tweeted Friday.
  • The company's BlueMail app has been available on the Google Play Store for six years before the cofounders were alerted of the app's suspension Friday morning.
  • Blix has also been kicked off of the Apple app store before in 2018. Apple later came out with an email product that was similar to BlueMail, prompting the cofounders to file a lawsuit against the smartphone maker in 2019.

Google kicked an app off its Google Play Store after its developers contributed questions for the US lawmakers to use during Wednesday's antitrust hearing.

Blix cofounder Ben Volach, who created the BlueMail app that was suspended, tweeted the revelation on Friday morning. Brothers Ben and Dave Volach both publicized their cooperation with the antitrust investigation earlier this week, as the Washington Post reported.

"If this isn't retaliation due to our role in the congressional hearing, then what is?" Volach tweeted. He also wrote "Apple & Google must be regulated. 2 gatekeepers to rule them all."

In a screenshot of an email viewed by Business Insider, the Blix developers were told by Google that its BlueMail app was now suspended after a recent review found it "not compliant with one or more of our Developer Program Policies." But according to the company, they were given "zero notice," a move that is "far too coincidental" considering the app is six years old and that it happened so soon after the hearing.

"Google either suspended BlueMail because we helped the House Antitrust Subcommittee prepare for the hearings or because Google just launched a competitor to Blix, our BlueMail for Teams product," cofounder Dan Volach said in an emailed statement. "Regardless, the fact that they have the power to kick you out of the store and cut your revenue stream with no notice is nothing short of absurd."

The company also told Business Insider that a "lite" version of the BlueMail app, one that customers barely use, remains active on the store as Google apparently only took down the heavyweight version.

Google later told Blix, per the Washington Post report, that the BlueMail app was suspended because the company found it to have copied another app.

"At minimum they should explain what the issue is, and not just remove it before the weekend," Ben Volach told Business Insider in an interview.

The Blix cofounders have openly expressed their complaints regarding Apple and Google and what they say is the two firms' unfair treatment of developers in their respective app stores.

"Apple and Google have no respect for their partners and they have too much control over our business," Ben Volach said in a statement sent to Business Insider. "It stifles innovation and tells the developer that it's not safe to bring new ideas to the store."

Google and Apple did not immediately respond to Business Insider's requests for comment.

Leading up to the hearing, big tech's treatment of third-party app developers was expected to be a major point of scrutiny, especially for Apple. According to Blix, Apple removed the BlueMail app form its own App Store in 2018 ahead of its Worldwide Developer's Conference. Apple later unveiled an email product that was similar to BlueMail, which prompted Blix to file a lawsuit against Apple over claims of patent infringement and antitrust violations. The lawsuit is still ongoing.

Apple told Business Insider in an emailed statement that the BlueMail app is currently available on Apple's App Store.

"Any suggestion that we manipulate the search algorithm is categorically false," the company said. "We provide all developers with a fair and level playing field on which they can compete."

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