Google has taken down the 2014 original version of the SMC Indic Keyboard Gesture Typing app from the Play Store without warning, according to a tweet by the app’s developer Jishnu Mohan. When Mohan appealed against the takedown, Google sent him a notice saying that his app had violated “phrases, images or videos” that he “may not have the permission to use”.
Mohan further pointed out to Google that the icon of the app was an original work designed by a former colleague, but the company replied that the removed version of the Indic Keyboard was “impersonating” another app. But it neither mentioned what app Mohan’s Indic Keyboard was impersonating nor which aspect of Mohan’s app was the problem. Google only asked him to fix the issue with a new update.
Platforms creating a competing product and then nuking out the original developer’s app within their opaque appeal process is surely not just a due policy violation but also monopolistic behavior. Using the word ‘indic’ as theirs is clearly way over the red line.
— V. Anand | வெ. ஆனந்த் (@iam_anandv) May 18, 2022
Why it matters: Google has its own version of the Indic Keyboard but Mohan’s version was popular in its own right. Besides the abrupt removal of the app, the fact that the original developer has to do so much to get it reinstated raises questions about the effectiveness of Google in dealing with such issues.
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Why was the original version taken down?
Mohan explained that Swathanthra Malayalam Computing (SMC), an open-source computing project for which he volunteered, had released an official version of the Indic Keyboard app on the Play Store; but, he had uploaded (through his own account) a similar version of the app because: “SMC is a free software community. As a community, it can’t promote proprietary software. Hence, two versions.”
“There are several for-profit companies, including Google, copied the ‘Indic Keyboard’ name in order to get on top of the search. For example, Reverie Technologies Swalekh keyboard picked up the phrase ‘indic keyboard’ as a pre-fix to become more visible on the search hits.” — Jishnu Mohan
According to Play Store’s policy, an app will be removed from the platform if it infringes on the established intellectual property (software, code, content, design, etc.) of any other app. However, Play Store does not perform any self-checks and instead, depends on alerts raised by users.
While Mohan admitted that some proprietary code he had used in his version may have set off Google’s alarms, he filed another appeal with attribution to any proprietary code that he may have used from GitHub along with website links that showed his affiliation with the SMC.
Still, Google replied reiterating that it is unclear whether Mohan’s Indic Keyboard is affiliated with any of the other apps of the same name on the Play Store. It also asked Mohan to provide other “valid verifiable documentation” that shows he is authorised to use the software.
Another reply now. I have no clue to this.
1. What is a “valid verifiable document”? I gave github, website links etc. Looks like they are not – what else can I give?
2. Which Indic Keyboard are they talking about? Is it our own “Indic Keyboard” or “Google Indic Keyboard”? pic.twitter.com/sUDHMn9eMM
— Jishnu (@jishnu7) May 18, 2022
Update: Since Mohan had exhausted all his appeals, a Google employee had to internally flag the issue after which the company agreed to restore the app to Play Store.
What is the SMC Indic Keyboard?
The Indic Keyboard is a free-to-use extension that allows users to type in 60 Asian languages and was released by the open-sourced software collective SMC in 2014. Both versions of the keyboard available online had a combined three million downloads.
In 2015, Google launched its own version of an Indic Keyboard with multiple language support as an add-on to its Hindi keyboard function. When Mohan and the SMC reached out to Google about both apps having the same name, it changed its app’s name from ‘Indic Keyboard’ to ‘Google Indic Keyboard’. Mohan said that there have been no intellectual property-related infringement notices or issues with Google in the seven odd years since then.
“Indic Keyboard” may have started out in reference to the SMC project but due to the nature of the original programme and Google’s usage of the name, it is now an umbrella term for any keyboard featuring Indian language characters.
Google has copyright troubles of its own
Google’s ad listing and search results policies have been challenged by various Indian companies in court for over a decade now. Particular keyword searches have often brought up competitor brands at the top of the search results, usually as plugged-in ads. Plugged-in ads are charged higher than normal ads and as such, it is allegedly an undue advantage offered by Google for higher rates.
Bharat Matrimony had filed a copyright infringement lawsuit before the Supreme Court alleging that using keywords like ‘bharat’ and ‘matrimony’ under Google’s Adwords programme displayed Shaadi.com, SimplyMarry and JeevanSathi in the search results. The top court had granted relief to Bharat Matrimony, asking that others avoid taking out ads using the copyrighted keywords.
On April 27, the Delhi High Court temporarily restrained Booking.com and Google from using MakeMyTrip (MMT) and its associated trademarks as keywords on Google Ads in India. The bench noted that this use would amount to trademark infringement and be detrimental to MMT’s “monetary interest and brand equity.” The outcome of this case will be closely watched by companies as it will set the precedent for future trademark cases.
Google will start clearing outdated apps starting November
Google has announced that it will be preventing the discovery and installation of outdated apps on Play Store starting from November 1, 2022. It will affect users who update their Android phones with the latest software or have purchased new Android phones.
“…existing apps that don’t target an API level within two years of the latest major Android release version will not be available for discovery or installation for new users with devices running Android OS versions higher than apps’ target API level.” — Google
However, the adjustment is not expected to be too much of a disruption for developers as Google requires new apps and app updates to target an Android API level within one year of the latest major Android OS version release
Meanwhile, Google also kicked out a set of Android apps from the Play Store after finding out that the apps included a line of code that was harvesting user data secretly, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.
Update 20/04: Mohan’s comments on the reason why two versions of SMC Indic Keyboard exist were misquoted and changes have been made. The error is regretted.
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