Banned Reddit app returns

Reddit Is Fun's not-so-fun misadventures in the Google Play store highlight Google's nonsensical mobile content policy.

Mar 3, 2020, 7:38 am*

Internet Culture

Kevin Morris 

Kevin Morris

The Reddit app banned from Google’s Android mobile-app store, ostensibly for linking to pornography, will soon return, its creator announced late Tuesday night.

The odd circumstances that saw Reddit Is Fun jettisoned from Google Play show why the laws governing Google’s marketplace need a rewrite.

Under Google’s official content policies, applications are forbidden from “containing” content that displays or links to “pornography, obscenity, nudity, or sexual activity.”

It’s understandable that Google doesn’t want to be in the business of selling pornographic content. But it’s that “link” language in Google’s policy that makes things murky.

According to Andrew Shu, Reddit Is Fun’s creator, Google Play dumped his app because it linked to sexually explicit forums on Reddit.

At face value, that seems fair enough. But hold on a second. Google offers its Chrome browser for free at the Google Play marketplace. That application certainly should fall under the same set of rules as Reddit Is Fun, right? Type “porn” into that browser’s search bar and your Android device will serve up links to “pornography, obscenity, nudity, or sexual activity.” Use Google Images, and it may even display that content.

So why isn’t Google Chrome banned as well?

The distinction is only known to Google employees, apparently. By a literal reading of Google’s own rules, Chrome—or any other Web browser—should be off the market.

But we can take a guess.There’s only one real difference, after all.

With an ordinary browser, you’ve got to search for your pornography. Reddit Is Fun links directly to pornographic sections from a main menu. Those sections, in turn, link to external pornographic sites. It’s a two- or three-step process to reach sexually explicit content. But you don’t have to search for it.

The distinction seems specious: What’s the difference between typing the word “porn” into a search bar and clicking voluntarily on a link to a section clearly labeled “NSFW” (not safe for work)?

As Shu noted in a Reddit post:

“The primary issue is the linking to sexually explicit reddits [sections of Reddit] and potentially other policy-violating reddits like any condoning hate speech, gratuitous violence, etc.”

In other words, linking to pornography is OK on an Android device so long as the links appear via a search.

Shu is rewriting his app so that the default settings don’t include links to subreddits which, in turn, might link to websites displaying pornography, hate speech, or violence. (You can still get to those websites, mind you—and any racy images will display just fine in Google’s built-in mobile Web browser.)

Rules are rules. We can’t fault Google for enforcing them. We can, however, fault the company for not making the rules clear. And for enforcing them spottily.

You can hardly fault Shu for assuming his apps were safe.

BaconReader, another Reddit browser that links to NSFW sections, is still available at Google Play. As is Chandroid, an app that lets users browse 4chan, an image board filled with pornography and depictions of violence.

Keep in mind that many people’s livelihoods depend on the virtual marketplace. Google will take down an offending app before giving developers a chance to respond. Instead, the company forces them instead to go through an appeals process after the fact. Shu’s app has been down for almost two days.

Which is more offensive: a mobile app that links to the exact same pornography Google provides with a simple search, or cutting off someone’s livelihood because your rules aren’t clear?

Image by Naoki Seto

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*First Published: Mar 21, 2012, 12:56 pm