Hey Google, Android can't be selectively 'open source'

Government has always been supportive of both commercial off-the-shelf products and those in the open source arena. And while Google's Android platform seem to have the edge over the iPhone in this respect, Google might not be quite as open-source as we originally thought.

Google recently suspended the accounts of two app developers and subsequently pulled every single app they ever made from the Google Market. This was all done without any warning whatsoever, Wired reported

One of the two programmers in question actually first heard about his suspension by people tweeting him to say they couldn’t find his apps.

Apparently, the two developers have made emulator apps that let users play games from other platforms, such as PlayStation consoles. The problem with this is that Sony recently released the Xperia Play Android-powered phone-slash-PlayStation controller and has put out all sorts of old PlayStation games as apps in the Google Market that are supposed to be only used on “PlayStation Certified” equipment, of which the Xperia Play is currently the only one. It is not hard to do the math here.

I suppose it was bound to happen. I mean, look at the two companies’ respective histories.

Google’s stated policy has always been “Don’t Be Evil.” But it really should say, “Don’t Be Evil, Unless Unduly Pressured By Someone Else.” When it initially launched services in China, Google acceded to pressure by the Chinese government to censor search results. Although the company has been trying to back off of this ever since, it still is doing business with one of the largest human rights violators in the world today.

And as for Sony, I really only have one word for you: Bleem! 

For those not up on PlayStation history, I suppose more than one word is needed. Bleem! was a company that made an emulator that could run PlayStation games on a PC or Sega Dreamcast system back in 1999. Sony sued them almost immediately for perceived violation of their rights, and although Bleem! won the suit, the legal costs allegedly drove the company out of business in 2005.

So it’s not hard to figure out what happens when an irresistible force meets a house of cards.

Although the two developers can peddle their wares on dozens of other sites that sell Android apps, the Android Market is by far the largest. So these two developers took a serious hit to their income. The worst part is that the removals came entirely without warning.

Google, you do know that you can’t have it both ways? Either you say you’re 100 percent open and stick to your guns, or you might as well set up a restrictive approval process like certain other app stores we all know.

By the way, Google, your handling is not what anyone would call “open.” If you want to know what open source really means, perhaps you should try Googling it.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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Reader Comments

Mon, Jun 13, 2011 Satan

I guess Google is evil afterall. Some of us knew this for a while now. Just saying...

Sun, Jun 12, 2011 Sverix

This article is an embarasment to GCN and the author. The first half is plain wrong, because the author does not know what he is writing about. He clearly has no idea what "open source" means. The second half is misleading because he does not put it in a context. Try to compare Google's behaviour to its competitors' behaviourin China.

Sat, Jun 11, 2011

A simple Google search to check what was mentioned in the article reveals the following: Google is perhaps the largest repository of open source in the world hosting over 250,000 projects. The company itself has released well over 20 million lines of code and over 900 projects. See http://code.google.com/opensource/ In terms of Android specifically, The Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is tasked with the maintenance and further development of Android. See http://source.android.com/ As previous readers have mentioned, this is about the Android Marketplace. Thus the best source of information is to refer to the Android Market Developer Distribution Agreement regarding removal of an App. Section 7.2: While Google does not intend, and does not undertake, to monitor the Products or their content, if Google is notified by you or otherwise becomes aware and determines in its sole discretion that a Product or any portion thereof or your Brand Features; (a) violates the intellectual property rights or any other rights of any third party; (b) violates any applicable law or is subject to an injunction; (c) is pornographic, obscene or otherwise violates Google's hosting policies or other terms of service as may be updated by Google from time to time in its sole discretion; (d) is being distributed by you improperly; (e) may create liability for Google or Authorized Carriers; (f) is deemed by Google to have a virus or is deemed to be malware, spyware or have an adverse impact on Google's or an Authorized Carrier's network; (g) violates the terms of this Agreement or the Market Content Policy for Developers; or (h) the display of the Product is impacting the integrity of Google servers (i.e., users are unable to access such content or otherwise experience difficulty), Google may remove the Product from the Market or reclassify the Product at its sole discretion. Google reserves the right to suspend and/or bar any Developer from the Market at its sole discretion. Regarding China, most readers already know that Google search results now come from servers in Hong Kong that are not censored. This was widely reported last year. Perhaps you are referring to other companies that provide Internet search that continue to censor their results.

Fri, Jun 10, 2011 Yngve Switzerland

Well, if you think about it, this is actually quite similar to what are done for software repositories. If a given program have restrictive license, or is knowingly breaking a software patent, it will not be distributed in the main repository of a given distribution. But, the difference I guess is that the discussion is much more open than this.

Fri, Jun 10, 2011 Chris Tankersley

I think some homework needs to be done, as this article has little to actually do with Open Source. First, Android can be selectively open sourced. Only the kernel is GPL, and the userland is published under the Apache license. Google, as the copyright holder, can decide to change the license for their code at any time and decide what is and isn't open source. Apache licensing also allows them to not release the source code if they so choose. Those are the rules of the game. Second, emulators are a gray area when it comes to legality. Bleem! won their suit partially because you still needed a disc - last I checked, by Droid2 can't have a Playstation CD stuck inside of it. While a person can make backup copies for the CDs, they are for archival purposes, not for playing them on different hardware. The emulators allowed users to play unauthorized, and most likely illegal, copies of games. They would have been pulled eventually. As for the Market, nothing about the Market has anything to do with OSS. While Android does encourage OSS development, the Market is not open source, and apps do not need to be open source to be in the Market. Pulling apps from or publishing apps to the Android Market has nothing at all to do with open source software.

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