Un­lockd sus­pends IPO as it takes Google to court over ban on app

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligence - By James Tit­comb

AN AUS­TRALIAN tech­nol­ogy com­pany backed by Lach­lan Mur­doch is tak­ing le­gal ac­tion against Google in the UK af­ter it was banned by the in­ter­net giant.

Un­lockd, an app that re­wards smart­phone users for view­ing ad­verts when they un­lock their phone, said it had ap­plied for a High Court in­junc­tion against Google af­ter be­ing told it would be re­moved from the com­pany’s An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem. The row threat­ens to res­ur­rect the Mur­dochs’ long-run­ning feud with Google af­ter years of Ru­pert Mur­doch, Lach­lan’s fa­ther, at­tack­ing the com­pany over its grow­ing share of the ad­ver­tis­ing mar­ket.

Un­lockd has raised more than £32m and says it was plan­ning to go pub­lic in a move that would have so­lid­i­fied its po­si­tion as one of Aus­tralia’s most promis­ing tech firms.

The com­pany li­cences its app to other busi­nesses such as Tesco’s mo­bile net­work arm, which lets cus­tomers knock £3 off their bills for hav­ing it in­stalled. Google has now told Un­lockd that it will be re­moved from the Play Store, the por­tal used for down­load­ing new apps on An­droid phones, and will be banned from the AdMob net­work used to run ad­verts in­side apps.

Un­lockd said it had been forced to sus­pended an ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing (IPO) and that Google’s ac­tions “rep­re­sent an abuse of its dom­i­nant po­si­tion”.

“Un­lockd... con­firms that it has ap­plied for an in­junc­tion with the UK High Court to pre­vent Google from dis­abling AdMob gen­er­ated ad­ver­tis­ing con­tent and re­mov­ing Un­lockd apps from the Google Play Store,” a spokesman said.

“Un­lockd’s le­gal coun­sel has con­fi­dence that the threats made by Google to with­draw ac­cess and the sup­ply of ser­vices in re­spect of Google Play and AdMob rep­re­sent an abuse of its dom­i­nant po­si­tion and breach of com­pe­ti­tion rules.

“It is par­tic­u­larly strik­ing that Google’s warn­ings emerged at a time of spec­u­la­tion around an Un­lockd IPO in mid-April 2018. Google’s anti-com­pet­i­tive con­duct is pre­vent­ing Un­lockd from rais­ing cap­i­tal to con­tinue its rapid ex­pan­sion and in­no­va­tion, and there­fore pro­tect­ing Google from a grow­ing and po­ten­tial com­peti­tor.”

Google is be­lieved to have banned Un­lockd for four sep­a­rate vi­o­la­tions of its poli­cies. An­droid’s rules for­bid apps from “in­ter­fer­ing with de­vice func­tion­al­ity”, while AdMob’s rules ban apps be­ing made up largely of ad­verts.

A spokesman said: “Our pub­licly avail­able AdMob and Google Play poli­cies clearly set out how our prod­ucts may be used, and are de­signed to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of ad­ver­tis­ers, pub­lish­ers and phone users.

“We ex­plained our con­cerns to Un­lockd, out­lined how they could fix the prob­lems or use al­ter­na­tives, and gave them time to make changes.

“And de­spite hav­ing agreed at the out­set to com­ply with our prod­uct poli­cies, their app re­mains in in­fringe­ment to­day.”

Google is yet to re­move Un­lockd or its part­ners, al­though this is be­lieved to be im­mi­nent.

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