Banned from the Market… ok.

So, I’ve had my first real clash with the Open Handset Alliance today. Wifi Tether for Root Users, an app I’m a contributor for, got banned from the Android Market for violating the Developer Distribution Agreement.

The reasoning provided is a rather twisted web, as it turns out. According to the agreement:

“Google enters into distribution agreements with device manufacturers and Authorized Carriers to place the Market software client application for the Market on Devices. These distribution agreements may require the involuntary removal of Products in violation of the Device manufacturer’s or Authorized Carrier’s terms of service.”

And then, the T-Mobile Terms of Service say the following (as of 11-18-2008):

“Your Data Plan is intended for Web browsing, messaging, and similar activities on your device and not on any other equipment. Unless explicitly permitted by your Data Plan, other uses, including for example, tethering your device to a personal computer or other hardware, are not permitted.”

This raises some interesting questions about this “open” platform. Android phones are supposed to be released for other carriers in the future, right? Does this mean that apps in the Market have to adhere to the ToS for only T-Mobile, even when other carriers sign on? Will all apps have to adhere to the ToS for every carrier that supports Android phones? Why is all of this enforcement Google’s job, in the first place? If T-Mobile wants to force people to pay for broadband plans in addition to their phone data, it’s their job to either make that attractive to users or strongarm them into it by, say, instituting data caps. Playing cop for cell carriers doesn’t really seem like the ideal way to establish credibility as a promoter of free software and a strong development community.

Aside from the issue of “authorized carriers,” there are some otherwise valid uses of tethering software which users are now being denied. One of the apps banned was for tethering internet over Bluetooth. (We’re working on adding it to ours, someday. See below.) With wifi tethering, the internet has to come in from the cell carrier, but Bluetooth tethering allows a user to connect their phone to a wireless router and then share it with a device that has Bluetooth but no wireless card. This use, by definition, can’t violate the T-Mobile ToS, since it doesn’t require their data plan at all. And that’s not even to mention phones which have been set up to use other carriers who allow for tethering.

To add to the irony, one of the folks who helped develop the initial tethering scripts works for Google, I’m told. Another Google employee has forked Wifi Tether, added Bluetooth support to it, says he and his office-mates use it on their commute, and has even given us a patch we can merge in when we get the time. I know they’re not any more responsible for this policy than I am, but it just makes me giggle to know that there’s an underground presence inside the machine. Hopefully they (and you) can help us push for a really open Android instead of the same greedy corporate power plays we see from other mobile platforms.

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