Home Strategy Aussie start-up Unlockd puts off IPO after Google threat to block apps

Aussie start-up Unlockd puts off IPO after Google threat to block apps

Australian mobile rewards platform Unlockd has been forced to put off an impending IPO after Google threatened to remove its apps from the Google Play store and disable the advertising content it serves through the AdMob technology.

In a statement, Unlockd said it had applied for an injunction in the UK High Court to prevent Google from removing its apps and disabling AdMob generated advertising content.

Unlockd's business model is built around consumers agreeing to view content on their mobile screens when they unlock their phones. In exchange, the users get rewarded in different ways, such as getting discounts on their monthly mobile bills.

Its apps run only on the Android operating system meaning that the threat by Google, if carried through, would more or less cuts off its blood supply. Asked why it had not created an app for iOS, an Unlockd spokesperson said: "Unlockd has always been Android only due to the closed nature of the iOS operating system not allowing third-party apps to integrate into their ecosystem."

The business, which is in its fledgling stages, has about 330,000 users worldwide and has offices in India, the US, the UK and Australia.

unlockd biz model

Unlockd's business model.

Unlockd returns about 70% of the ad revenue it gets to its users, while Google, which dominates the mobile ad market, does not offer a cent back.

Unlockd said it was striking that the warning from Google, about removing the Unlockd apps, came at a time when there had been speculation about Unlockd going in for an IPO this month.

It added: "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.

"Notwithstanding the legal action, we continue to explore all possible avenues to find a solution that works for both parties and avoids unnecessary disruption to our partners and customers.”

In response to a query from iTWire, a Google spokesperson 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."

Update: iTWire sought answers from Unlockd about Google's claims. The questions and answers are reproduced in full below:

Q: The complaints that Google has against Unlockd are said to concern ads that make bogus claims to encourage clicks, pages that are completely filled with ads, interstitial ads (which load as a different page is loading) and ads that interfere with other apps, ads, or the operation of the mobile device in question. How much truth is there to these claims?

A: Unlockd is an attention-based mobile rewards platform where users to opt-in to view targeted ads, content and offers upon unlocking their smartphone in exchange for rewards. Our opt-in model is explicitly and clearly referred to in all of our communications, Terms of Use and at the point of download of all partner apps on the Google Play Store.

Our global patent protection supports our unique and valuable ad placement on the “unlock” event – that enables advertisers to reach opted in consumers before they go to social media, other apps or websites.

We have received formal written approval from Google on two separate occasions, validating Unlockd’s app for use with AdMob, and Google has also acknowledged that it is consistent with their policies.

Q: Google has said that it had concerns about the way Unlockd did not adhere to its AdMob and Google Play policies. Can you please elaborate on this? What was the disagreement about?

A: Google alleges that Unlockd has breached a number of its policies and as result plans to shut down Unlockd’s access to the AdMob inventory and Google Play Store. Unlockd firmly rejects (the charge) that its app breaches Google’s policies.

The threats to withdraw Unlockd’s access are a reversal from Google’s previous approach – Google has previously approved Unlockd’s App for use with AdMob on two separate occasions during 2017 following exhaustive testing, and on both occasions acknowledged that the app is, in fact, consistent with their policies. Unlockd has not made any changes to its App that justifies a change of approach.

Q: Google also says that Unlockd was told how fixes for these problems - which it does not specify - could be implemented and that Unlockd agreed to comply with the product policies. So how did the problem arise?

A: As mentioned already, Google has previously approved Unlockd’s App for use with AdMob on two separate occasions during 2017 following exhaustive testing, and on both occasions acknowledged that the app is, in fact, consistent with their policies. Unlockd has not made any changes to its App that justifies a change of approach.

Due to legal proceedings, we’re unable to provide further detail other than what has been given above.

Q: There are claims by Google that the Unlockd app is in infringement of the Google Pay store and AdMob policies. In what way is the Unlockd app claimed be infringing these policies?

A; Due to legal proceedings we’re unable to provide further detail other than what has been given above.

Screenshots: courtesy Unlockd

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

 

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