Google has told free speech social network Gab that its open source Fediverse app will be banned from the Google Play Store in seven days unless it removes “objectionable user generated content” – something that’s impossible due to the decentralized nature of the app.
There are many web browsers on the Google Play Store, including Google’s own Chrome browser, which allow users to browse user generated content and any website without requiring the app developer to moderate this content.
Gab’s app is a client which allows users to connect to and browse the decentralized Fediverse – a network of decentralized blogging and social networking projects which mostly host user generated content. Like with a web browser, Gab can’t control which servers or content users visit or connect to.
Google gave Gab this impossible ultimatum minutes after its app hit number one trending on the Google Play Store.
In the message, Google says the app is in violation of the Google Play Store’s User Generated Content (UGC) policy because apps that “feature or host objectionable UGC” are not allowed.
Google says that Gab must start moderating user generated content within seven days or the app will be removed from the Google Play Store. Since the Fediverse is decentralized and allows users to host their own content, Gab can’t possibly comply with this demand so the app will almost certainly be banned from the Google Play Store a week from now.
What’s most concerning is that the implications of this policy go far beyond Gab. ActivityPub apps, Fediverse apps, Mastodon apps, web browsers, social networks, and any other apps that feature user generated content which Google decides is “objectionable” can be given this same impossible demand and then banned seven days later.
As Gab points out, some of the language in the Google Play Store User Generated Content policy also makes apps a target for media smears, particularly the part that says apps “that develop a reputation among users of being a place where such [objectionable] content thrives, will also be removed from Google Play.”
As we’ve seen with the quarantining of the Sargon of Akkad subreddit, the quarantining of The Donald subreddit, and many other similar incidents, the legacy media often find examples of a small number of bad actors in a community and then present these bad actors as reflective of the entire community. This same tactic could be used to give any app that hosts user generated content a “reputation” of being a place where objectionable content thrives and as a result, get it removed from the Google Play Store.
Gab has responded to Google by saying that its app doesn’t host or feature user generated content – it’s simply an ActivityPub client allowing users to connect to servers running open-source ActivityPub software. Gab adds that it believes Google is applying its rules inconsistently to discriminate against Gab and acting in an unlawfully anti-competitive way:
In the US, Google is already being investigated by Congress and the House Judiciary Committee for antitrust issues. The US Department of Justice is also reportedly getting ready to launch an antitrust investigation of Google. In addition to this, the company is facing antitrust investigations in multiple countries outside of the US.