Google was ever so quick to throw out that Android ad blocker... shame they can be slower on malware

AdBlock Fast

Having rocketed to the top of the download charts in the Google Play store, the Android ad blocker AdBlock Fast fell down to earth with a bump yesterday as it was removed for violating developer guidelines.

AdBlock Fast, developed by an outfit called Rocketship Apps, acts as a plugin on Samsung's pre-installed smartphone browser. And because it blocks ads, it also prevents advertisers from tracking your movements on the internet and - such a bonus - makes surfing faster too.

But now if you try to download AdBlock Fast from the Google Play store it's nowhere to be seen.

App removed

As VentureBeat reports, Google started chucking ad-blocking apps out of the official Google Play store back in March 2013, pointing out that developer agreements state apps cannot interfere with the functionality of other apps.

The difference here, of course, is that Samsung just introduced its own browser API to encourage the development of ad-blocking plugins and - one assumes - was very happy to see AdBlock Fast zoom up the Android download charts.

So, who would possibly have a thing against ad blockers?

Well, I can think of three groups.

Firstly, there are the advertisers and websites. They want as many eyeballs as possible to see their ads because that's how they make money.

GoogleSecondly, there is Google.

Google, although many people doesn't seem to have twigged it yet, is essentially an advertising company. It makes a vast amount of money from selling advertising space on its own sites and other people's. If everyone started using browsers that allow for easy ad-blocking that would be bad news for Google.

By comparison, Apple (which is not as dependent on ad sales as Google) is actively encouraging its iPhone customers to install ad blockers.

Finally, the last group of people who would be anti-ad blockers would be the online criminals who exploit online ads to spread malware, and trick users into falling for scams.

In this case it's Google who took direct action against the ad blocker. Now, you might believe that they are well within their rights to have whatever rules they like governing their app store.

But it would have been refreshing, at the very least, if Google had been honest enough to say "Hey, you know what? We make money out of advertising, so we're not going to allow ad blockers like this. Sorry."

Google certainly acted quickly on this occasion to remove an Android app it didn't approve of from the Google Play store.

What a shame that is sometimes been so tardy in removing much more malicious apps, such as the trojanised games which achieved a million downloads before Google woke up to the threat.

Surely Google isn't more bothered about losing some money from adverts compared to Android users getting hit by malware?

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6 Responses

  1. Spennick

    February 4, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    "Surely Google isn't more bothered about losing some money from adverts compared to Android users getting hit by malware?"

    I presume that comment was intended to convey an ample supply of sarcasm.

    I do believe there are companies who are sufficiently rational to realize that concern for the well-being of their users is the best guarantor of long-term profitability. Unfortunately, with Google, their users are not their customers. Their customers are those who provide add revenues. Ultimately, their users are their product…that is, the source of those revenues.

    On that basis, I suspect that Google is bothered by Android users getting hit by malware only to the extent that it makes for negative PR. They don't want to be perceived as The Bad Guy™. But their track record for intrusive data mining practices tells me that they're far less concerned about the privacy and security of their users than their "Don't be evil" motto would suggest.

  2. coyote

    February 4, 2016 at 11:33 pm #

    Well… to give you an idea, here is how I responded to the post on hotforsecurity.com you made today: “Deceptive site ahead”: Google helps protect users from deceitful download buttons

    But it doesn’t protect you from Facebook, government websites, Google itself… Yes, they are all deceptive and that goes for all governments in all nations too.

    So I'm not really surprised here, either. They are a deceitful company and they really don't care about anyone or anything but themselves and that their policies are allowed to go forward. Which really isn't excusable or acceptable to any somewhat decent person. But that's not their way of thinking because they don't fit in that category.

    Otherwise, nice pun with the title (of this post) and the name of the ad blocker.

  3. Mark Jacobs

    February 5, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    You know that people will now flock to unauthorised sites to download apks and jail-break their mobile devices in order to install those apks. Well done, Google, you really have missed the point here. The mobile market will become more dangerous with that attitude. Using money as a motive has never brought anything but pain in the long run.

  4. Thomas D Dial

    February 5, 2016 at 9:33 pm #

    And yet "Adblock Browser for Android" from Eyeo, the provider of Adblock Plus, is trivial to find and download from the Play Store, as is Rocketshield's "Free Adblocker Browser." It seems likely that there is more going on here than Google simply disliking ad blockers. Certainly Samsung's bundled browser is not so great as to warrant a lot of fuss over changing browsers to get ad blocking if you wish.

    • Graham Cluley in reply to Thomas D Dial.

      February 5, 2016 at 9:50 pm #

      My understanding is that Apple doesn't have a problem with listing third-party *browsers* that block ads in the Google Play store.

      Their issue is with add-ons and plugins that alter the behaviour of browsers. So, even though Samsung doesn't care if developers take advantage of its ad-blocking API, Google gets the hump.

  5. David L

    February 9, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    If Samsung blocker worked globally, then that's the problem. It would interfere with every app that has any advertising. So it's not just Google, but all other developers too. Samsung should have known better and made the blocking exclusive to their own browser like Adblock Plus, Ghostery, and others. Plus, browsers like Firefox for Android that offer add-ons / extensions have all the major blockers available. Then there are other dedicated blockers that typically require a subscription like Adgaurd, Disconnect, and others that do work globally but you get them directly from the developer. Disconnect comes on Black Phone and is a trusted source, and they act like a VPN with filtering. So, there are multitudes of choices these days. Last, but not least, there are firewall apps you can use to take control of all connections your phone makes. Many choices there too, for rooted or NON rooted.

    Now, to be fair, Google did ban those other global blockers within days of being published in playstore. But the subscription rates are very reasonable compared to typical VPNs.

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