Popular Android torrent client LibreTorrent has been removed from Google Play, who informed its developer that the open-source “Free Software” tool violated the platform’s “spam policy”. The developer believes this may be due to a flood of abusive cloned copies of LibreTorrent but Google doesn’t seem interested in investigating further.
Broadly speaking, torrent clients come in two flavors; closed source (such as uTorrent or BitTorrent Mainline) or open-source, such as qBittorrent or BiglyBT, for example.
Many experienced torrent users often favor the latter, since the code of open-source clients is not only open to scrutiny but can give others the ability to learn about or further develop software. So of course, it’s never great when something bad happens to an open-source project.
Yaroslav Pronin, a student and Russia-based developer of Android torrent client LibreTorrent, is an advocate of Free Software. He informs TF that he began work on his tool in 2016 because he believed there wasn’t a “complete freedom” torrent client available for the platform.
Pronin says that he was also motivated by the fact that BitTorrent has been under pressure, with sites blocked both in Russia and overseas due to copyright issues.
“A Free Software torrent client is an important step in supporting BitTorrent technology for the free (as in Freedom) exchange of information between people,” he explains.
As a result, Pronin went down the open-source route (GNU GPLv3) for LibreTorrent and gathered a decent-sized following. But despite all his good intentions, he still found his software deleted from Google Play recently for a somewhat unusual reason.
What happened behind the scenes here is something of a mystery. Pronin says that he first became aware of an issue in early October when Google advised him that his software had been marked as ‘spam’, which indicates the client is considered “non-original” content.
“It was the morning of October 8, 2019, when I read the e-mail from Google that LibreTorrent was deleted. They wrote the reason: ‘Violation of Spam policy’,” Pronin explains.
“I was shocked, because I didn’t violate anything of the kind. Therefore, I turned to Google with the first appeal, so that they could clarify the situation, and also figure out that I didn’t violate the spam policy.”
It turned out that Google wasn’t interested in reconsidering its position.
Status of app LibreTorrent (org.proninyaroslav.libretorrent): Suspended from Google Play due to policy violation.
I’ve reviewed your appeal request and found that your app still violates Google Play Policy. During review, we found that your app violates the policy for Spam. We don’t allow apps that spam users or Google Play, such as apps that are duplicative and low-quality.
“As I can think, this was due to the fact that there were many LibreTorrent clones on Google Play and Google just uninstalled all the apps without understanding the essence of what was happening,” he says, commenting on the app’s deletion from Google Play.
Pronin informs TorrentFreak that thus far, Google has only responded to him once, informing him of the reason for deletion. He says he sent information confirming him as the developer of the original LibreTorrent but that achieved nothing.
“I filed an appeal, but in response I was told that they can not help in any way and the only option is to rename the application and lay it out again,” he explains.
Completely renaming an app and losing an established brand seems a draconian measure to force on a developer. Sadly, it may be that other developers who took LibreTorrent’s source and decided to abuse it may be to blame.
“Since 2016, a lot of LibreTorrent clones have appeared on Google Play. I understand that LibreTorrent is open source, but those who published these clones on Google Play didn’t modify the source code,” he says.
“They only added ads and changed the name of the application. Yes, there were authoring developments based on LibreTorrent, but there are much fewer of them than clones with advertising. Most of the clones were removed last year at my request, but they appear again and again.
“Google just decided that LibreTorrent is an application with non-original content, as many LibreTorrent clones are located on Google Play. It’s also possible that the author of one of the clones filed a complaint for the removal of the original LibreTorrent. We can only guess about it.”
Pronin is understandably upset and disappointed with Google. He says that the company has made no effort to understand the situation yet, meanwhile, leaves up actually malicious software for download until someone complains.
More importantly for him, however, is that with the removal of LibreTorrent, fewer people overall will learn about Free Software. He acknowledges that Google services are both non-free and have privacy problems but getting the Free Software message out to as many people as possible was one of his key goals.
It’s also a shame since after a year in development, LibreTorrent 2.0 is almost ready for launch. The source code has been rewritten to increase stability and there are around 20 new features, including an updated UI.
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.