Element app returns to Google Play after a takedown

Element, an open-source Matrix protocol client, is again available on the Google Play app store after being removed for about a day due to a report of “extremely abusive content”.

The app was removed on 30 January CET without notifying the developers beforehand. Google then cited “abusive content somewhere on Matrix” as the reason for removal. Later, it was specified by a Google Vice President that “the suspension was triggered by a report of extremely abusive content accessible on the matrix.org server”. The VP also apologised for the bad communication from Google.

“Our Trust and Safety team had already identified and acted on this content to enforce the server’s terms of use, and so we’ve explained how Element and Matrix works, established a channel for communication over any future moderation concerns, and expect the app to be restored shortly,” wrote Matthew Hodgson, the CEO/CTO of Element, in a blog post.

Matrix.org homeserver is run by Element on behalf of The Matrix.org Foundation. Although the largest server, Matrix is a federated network where each organisation or user can run their server with its own terms of service.

The Element app is probably the most popular Matrix client, but it is only one of the many ways to access Matrix. “[W]e’ve submitted a detailed appeal to reiterate that Element is a generic chat app for connecting to the global Matrix communication network, just as Chrome is a generic web browser for connecting to the Web – and just as Google does not control the content on the Web, Element does not control the content on Matrix,” Hodgson also wrote.

Google has removed numerous federated services in the past on the grounds of providing access to hate speech.

While Element was down, the developers urged users to download the app from F-Droid, an open-source Google Play alternative, though the latest version was not available there. Element is also available on another popular Android app repository, APKMirror.

“If the Web had been invented today, Google and Apple policies would ban it from their ecosystems, because it’s not a walled garden under the control of a single proprietor as their policy demands,” wrote Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games, in reaction to Google’s move. Epic Games is in the middle of lawsuit with Apple because of Apple’s alleged dominance over app distribution.

“Not only are they monopolies blocking customer rights, developer rights, and fair competition; they are forcing all apps to adopt their own monopoly curator approach, crushing emergent open systems,” continued Sweeney.

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