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Google Play Store exhibits anti-competitive behavior toward Fleksy keyboard app

Google wants Fleksy to have a higher age rating than Gboard in the Play Store because of an emoji they both have.

Published onOctober 23, 2019

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There are thousands of apps in the Google Play Store, many of which directly compete with Google’s offerings. A recent finding reveals Google might not be playing fairly with some of those competitors, with a specific problem popping up with the Fleksy app.

According to an in-depth report by TechCrunch, it looks like Google has unfairly judged the Fleksy app — a Gboard competitor developed by Spanish company ThingThing. In what ThingThing CEO Olivier Plante calls an “abuse of power,” Google has required Fleksy to hold an age rating of PEGI 12 compared to Gboard’s PEGI 3 rating for using an inappropriate middle finger emoji.

A PEGI 3 rating means the app may contain cartoon violence, but it is suitable for most ages. A PEGI 12 rating means the app contains mild bad language and slightly more graphic fantasy violence. The real issue here is that Gboard uses the same middle finger emoji that requires Fleksy to hold to the higher age rating.

This double standard was no accident, either. The Google Play Store’s age-rating system requires developers to fill out a questionnaire regarding their app’s content. The app then receives a suggested age rating based on the results.

For years, Fleksy has held the PEGI 3 age rating in the Google Play Store. But this month, Google reissued the questionnaire to ThingThing multiple times until it eventually blocked Fleksy’s latest update without explanation.

After ThingThing reached out to the Play Store for some clarity on the situation, Google cited the aforementioned emoji as being “not appropriate for all ages.” ThingThing eventually accepted the higher rating, but Google is still not happy. The Play Store team wants to push it even higher, citing the same issue.

Related: 9 best Android keyboards for all kinds of typists!

When Plante called out the double standard, Google did not respond. Until this all gets sorted out, Fleksy will continue to be labeled “T for Teen” on the Play Store while Gboard is rated “E for Everyone.”

There could be a million reasons for Google’s behavior, but all of which would be speculation at this point. TechCrunch reached out to Google for a response to the discrepancy, and at first glance, a spokesperson agreed it was fishy. Time will tell if Google corrects this anti-competitive behavior against Fleksy or if it doubles down on its Play Store age rating stance.

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