Google Sued Over Removal of Gab AI From App Store -- WSJ

By Jacob Gershman Features Dow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (September 16, 2017).

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Gab AI Inc., a social media startup popular with far-right activists, is suing Google over its removal from the Google Play app store.

Gab's lawsuit against Google -- filed in federal court in Pennsylvania late Thursday -- alleges its ouster was an illegal attempt to stifle competition.

The complaint comes less than a month after Google removed Gab's Android app from Google Play. Google said at the time that the Twitter-like social network had violated its developer content policy by failing to moderate user content encouraging violence and hate.

Gab claims Google's expulsion decision "was not about social justice" but motivated by commercial interests.

The "effect is that they used their monopoly power in the app store to block an upstart competitor it in the social media app market," Gab's attorney, Marc Randazza, said in a statement.

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Gab's lawsuit accuses Google of restricting competition in violation of the Sherman Act, the primary U.S. antitrust statute.

A spokesperson for Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., said Gab's claims were baseless.

"We're happy to defend our decision in court if need be," a Google spokesperson said in a statement Friday. "In order to be on the Play Store, social networking apps need to demonstrate a sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and advocates hate against groups of people. This is a longstanding rule."

Gab has also been shut out of Apple Inc.'s App Store because of similar concerns about objectionable user content.

Gab, which launched last year, bills itself as "an ad-free social network for creators who believe in free speech, individual liberty, and the free flow of information online." It claims to have more than 250,000 users.

Gab has sought to capitalize on conservative criticism of tech industry censorship, including Twitter's abusive-content policy. It has become a social-networking refuge for provocative online figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, who have been banned from posting on Twitter.

Google ousted Gab from Google Play came in the wake of August's white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which prompted Google and other major tech companies to crack down on hate sites such as Daily Stormer.

After GoDaddy and Google canceled Daily Stormer's website-hosting registration, Gab emerged as a forum for some neo-Nazi supporters.

Gab Chief Executive Andrew Torba, in a statement Friday, cast his company as David going up against Goliath, describing Google as "the biggest threat to the free flow of information."

Along with its lawsuit, Gab has set up a legal fund to help it finance the litigation.

Google says it hasn't been contacted by Gab since the suspension, and that it would consider lifting the ban if the startup becomes compliant with its policies.

Write to Jacob Gershman at jacob.gershman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 16, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)