“We have been developing for the Google Play Store for more than six years, but we woke up this morning to find ourselves kicked out with no notice,” Blix co-founder Ben Volach said in an interview Friday.
Google spokesman Dan Jackson said Friday evening in a written statement that the BlueMail app had been reinstated to the store.
“It’s completely false that we retaliated in any way against this developer. As part of our ongoing policy enforcement process, this app was flagged for similarities to the TypeApp mail app. As we always do when we find issues, we notified Blix and reached out to them to better understand the situation, and after a thorough review we have now reinstated the app," he wrote. Blix is also the developer of TypeApp.
On Wednesday, the antitrust subcommittee of the House Judiciary committee questioned the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google about new evidence the committee has gathered in an ongoing investigation into allegedly anticompetitive behavior by the four companies. One area of interest for the committee was the power of Apple and Google to act as gatekeepers for app developers, particularly when they compete head-to-head with those developers.
App developers have long complained about the power of Apple and Google to remove apps, sometimes seemingly out of the blue and without a detailed explanation. Lately, those complaints have become more vocal and public, particularly with regard to Apple. Recently, Tinder and Fortnite, among other developers, have come out of the woodwork to take on the market dynamics of the App Store.
Google has historically been more relaxed when it comes to approval of apps on its store. The company’s Android operating system also makes it easier to install apps without using the official app store.
The Blix co-founders made media appearances earlier this week, revealing they had been helping the antitrust investigators.
Until now, the Blix co-founders say they have not had any disagreements with Google. Last year, Blix sued Apple for patent infringement and antitrust violations when the iPhone maker released an email product that was similar to Blix’s and removed its app from the Mac App Store. Blix has been an outspoken critic of how Apple tightly controls its App Store.
“Apple and Google have no respect for their partners, and they have too much control over our business. It stifles innovation and tells developers that it’s not safe to bring innovation to the store,” Ben Volach said.
On Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company does not retaliate against or intimidate competitors. Apple has restored Blix to the Mac App Store. Apple has said it tried to work with Blix on restoring the app.
On Friday morning, the Blix founders say they started to receive emails from customers asking them why the app had been removed. Customers who switched phones or reset them needed to download the app again and were unable. Some took to Facebook and Twitter to complain about the removal.
Blix later received a partial explanation from Google: BlueMail had copied another App. In response, Blix’s founders asked Google whether it was retaliation for cooperating with the investigation.
“Google either suspended BlueMail because we helped the House Antitrust Subcommittee prepare for the hearings or because Google just launched a competitor to Blix,” said Dan Volach, who co-founded the company with his brother.
Google recently announced a new feature in which Gmail and the company’s chat service will be integrated. The Volachs say that functionality is similar to BlueMail.
“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," Dan Volach said.