Google is even censoring proxy apps that market themselves as tools for use with The Pirate Bay, some apps have near a million downloads

Google Inc. (GOOG) has faced sharp criticisms from the corporate media industry over accusations that its search engine and mobile platform Android practice a laissez-faire policy towards piracy.

It's even faced a lawsuit over allegations that its video-sharing site YouTube willfully hosted pirated content for profit.  While Google ended up triumphing after it proved that its accuser Viacom, Inc. (VIA) uploaded pirated content to YouTube in an apparent framing attempt.  Even with that victory, though, suffice it to say Google has faced a tough slog on the the topic of intellectual property.

I. The Raid

But with Google Play increasingly looking to ally with corporate media and vie with Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iTunes, the company appears to be undergoing an idealogical shift, embracing big media's view on piracy.

The latest sign of that came this week, when a number of apps relating to the world's most popular torrent site, The Pirate Bay, were removed from the Android Play Store.

TorrentFreak was the first to report on the takedown.  It listed four apps as being taken down, but my search...

Pirate Bay takedowns
Apps boxed in red were taken down and are merely lingering in Google Cache.  Blue boxes indicate links to affected developers.  The single green box app was not taken down.

....indicated the list was much more extensive, with nearly a dozen apps (or more) removed.  Among those that were removed include.  I searched the listings for these apps' pages, but only some were available.  Most you can still view in Google's cache, though: Some of the removed apps were search and download clients for magnet links.  A couple also provided proxy services to circumvent regional bans on The Pirate Bay.

Pirate Bay Mirror
One of the purged apps is seen here in a capture.

A handful of other similar (or related) apps related to The Pirate Bay curiously survived the purge, including: ...some of these appear to be less popular.  Also some seemed to escape by not having "Pirate Bay" in their name, often by cleverly using other variants on the name, e.g. PiratBay with no 'e'.  Also some offer other forms of functionality relating to the site, e.g. the RSS feeds app.

Also popular torrent clients appear to be intact for now, including... ... and general torrent searches, such as... ...seem to have escaped the purge.

II. Google Ratchets Up Censorship

TorrentFreak has shared one of the takedown notices Google sent.  In it, it writes:

REASON FOR REMOVAL: Violation of the intellectual property and impersonation or deceptive behavior provisions of the Content Policy. Please refer to the IP infringement and impersonation policy help article for more information.

Pirate Bay takedown
The full takedown notice sent to devs is seen above. [Image Source: TorrentFreak]

Gavin, developer of The Pirate Bay Proxy app, spoke out against the takedowns, asserting his app did nothing that other (still available) proxy browser apps couldn't do and was essentially taken down for speechcrime -- for voice support for The Pirate Bay in the app title.  He appealed the decision, but Google rejected his plea, writing:

We have reviewed your appeal and will not be reinstating your app. This decision is final and we will not be responding to any additional emails regarding this removal.

The app has 45,000 active users and 900,000 downloads, but it won't be getting any more users.  Gavin says it's popular as it's a well-made anti-censorship tool to circumvent regional court-ordered blockades on TBP and other sites.  He comments:

The app is no different from Firefox or Chrome in that it’s a tool which provides access to TPB or any other web address.  The removal has a sense of irony as the app is described as an anti-censorship tool.

As TorrentFreak states, the takedown email does not mention there being any DMCA notices (see: the oft abused 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act [PDF]) involved.  It appears Google was just being proactive here, perhaps trying to convince its big media partners that it was as committed to eliminating piracy as they were.

An important thing to note is that Google is NOT taking advantage of remote uninstall capabilities to purge the existing install base for the apps.  In other words, users who downloaded them can keep using them.  But new users will no longer have access to them.

uTorrent app
Popular Android torrent clients like µTorrent live on for now, but could eventually be banned as Google grows more draconian about copyright infringement.

At the end of the day, some of the takedowns (e.g. those of the magnet link apps) perhaps could be viewed as justifiable.  But the problem is that the takedowns appear rather inconsistent and arbitrary.  In some cases apps are still available despite being nearly identical to those taken down.  And other taken down apps (e.g. the proxy app) appear to have done nothing overtly illegal, but were taken down for merely mentioning "The Pirate Bay" in their title.

Also remember, while many torrents are illegally promoting copyright infringement, many other torrents -- including the majority of those hosted on The Pirate Bay -- are legal.

This is worth keeping an eye on, as the big question remains whether Google will eventually go the way of Apple, banning torrent clients and torrent search apps altogether from the Android Play Store.

Sources: TorrentFreak, via Neowin

"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller

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