Element is a popular client for the federated chat protocol Matrix, and we highlighted it in our roundup of the best open-source alternatives to Google Hangouts last year (back when it was called Riot.im). Unfortunately, the app has been pulled from the Google Play Store without warning, in what seems to be another instance of Google mistaking third-party client applications for hosting all viewable content.
Element announced yesterday on Twitter that its app was suspended in the Play Store, without any notification from Google. The service later received confirmation that the takedown was due to abusive content, but since Element is only a client for Matrix servers, the ban appears to be another instance of Google mistaking content in third-party clients for content hosted by the developer. The same takedowns have happened to many other client applications in recent years.
Element explained the situation in a blog post:
As of 11:44 UTC we’ve submitted a detailed appeal to reiterate that Element is a generic chat app for connecting to the global Matrix communication network, just as Chrome is a generic web browser for connecting to the Web – and just as Google does not control the content on the Web, Element does not control the content on Matrix.
The Twitter account for Element has announced that the Android app should be returning to the Play Store shortly. A Google VP told the team that a report of abusive content on Element’s own server was responsible for the takedown, which has now been removed.
Update: we just got a call from a Google VP who explained the suspension was triggered by a report of extremely abusive content accessible on the https://t.co/g01j4u6O2e server. Our trust & safety team had already acted on it, and the app should be reinstated shortly.
— Element (@element_hq) January 30, 2021