Google Play has suddenly suspended LBRY, a decentralized, censorship-resistant YouTube alternative, that has been growing rapidly and had over 100,000 app downloads.
The app was suspended after Google claimed an image of a comedic scene from a short film that contained no explicit nudity was in violation of its “Sexual Content and Profanity” policy.
LBRY blasted Google for suspending the app and tweeted:
“Google doesn’t believe you should be allowed to decide for yourself about what you want to read, watch and hear.
They think they should decide for you.”
LBRY also noted that the controversial film Cuties, that sexualizes minors, is still available via the Netflix app on the Google Play Store – while LBRY has been suspended for showcasing this comedic scene in a single video uploaded by a user.
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LBRY added there’s “nothing that is pornographic” in For the Record, the short film featured in the screenshot, and that “Google is just getting scared of us and going to begin pulling out all the stops.”
The suspension of LBRY is the latest example of Google making arbitrary enforcement decisions against alt-tech apps. These decisions are usually unpredictable and almost impossible to comply with.
Free speech social network Gab was subject to similar arbitrary enforcement last year when it was banned for failing to remove “objectionable user generated content” – something that was impossible due to the decentralized nature of the app.
Not only does this mean that alt-tech apps have to worry about unpredictable enforcement that could suddenly wipe out their app’s distribution at any given moment but it also puts these apps at a disadvantage when competing with already-dominant Big Tech apps because these apps aren’t held to the same enforcement standards.
For example, the exact image that was cited as the reason for suspending LBRY’s app can still be seen on Google’s Chrome browser and on social media apps such as Twitter that even contain full-blown nudity, yet these apps aren’t being booted from the Google Play Store for showing the image.
While LBRY expects to get the Android app reinstated on the Google Play Store, it assumes it will have to make compromises and is encouraging users to check out the F-Droid version of the app “which doesn’t allow Google to track you and will always remain unrestricted.”
LBRY has enjoyed consistent success and growth since its launch, with many users who are frustrated with YouTube censorship using the platform as an alternative to YouTube where they can share and consume content without having to worry about it being restricted by YouTube’s increasingly strict speech control.
But even when platforms such as LBRY create alternative platforms that support free speech, Google’s vast control of app distribution through the Play Store, which is the main channel through which Android users download apps, allows it to throttle these apps and stamp out competition.