- Greg Sandoval/Business Insider
- Unlockd, an Australian advertising startup backed by Lachlan Murdoch, has gone into administration after a battle with Google about whether its app is allowed on the Play Store.
- Google tried to disable Unlockd’s ad content and ban its app, which lets users opt into ads and offers in exchange for rewards.
- Unlockd won an interim injunction this year to prevent a ban, but said the fight meant it had to cancel its IPO and that it couldn’t raise replacement cash.
- Google has disputed Unlockd’s version of events, saying the firm’s app breached its policies.
- Google doesn’t need any more scrutiny over its monopoly power right now.
Australian media startup Unlockd has gone into administration after a battle with Google, which tried to disable its ad content and ban its app from the Play Store.
The Unlockd app, which is backed by Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan, lets mobile users view ads, content, and offers based on their interests in exchange for rewards. It is only available on Android.
The company said it was planning to go public when Google threatened to ban its service from Google Play. Google also threatened to revoke Unlockd’s access to its AdMob in-app advertising service, saying the startup breached its policies.
But Unlockd won an interim injunction in the UK’s High Court in May and the Australian Federal Court to prevent the ban. At the time, it said it had put its planned IPO on hold.
The company said in an update on Tuesday that the fight had come at a cost: “[The] ramifications of Google’s actions have had and continue to have a deep impact on the business when considering the valuation of Unlockd prior to these threats and the postponement of the planned IPO, which would have fueled the continued growth and expansion of the business,” it said.
The public offering would have given Unlockd more funding for its operations and, the company said, it hadn’t been able to attract replacement capital in the meantime. Analysts had pegged the valuation between A$180 million (£102 million) and A$230 million (£131 million), according to a spokesman.
Now it’s gone into administration and is looking for a potential buyer or new funds.
“As such, we have not been able to secure the capital we had expected to replace the IPO and therefore have been left no choice but to move into voluntary administration,” the firm said.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but disputed Unlockd’s version of events to ABC Australia.
A spokesman said: “We explained our concerns to Unlockd, outlined how they could fix the problems or use alternatives, and gave them time to make changes.”
According to Google’s policies, apps can’t interfere with ads or the way other apps work.
The Google spokesman added: “[Despite] having agreed at the outset to comply with our product policies, apps using [Unlockd] technology remain in infringement today.”
Unlockd claimed that Google approved its app for use on AdMob, and had said the app was consistent with the search firm’s policies.
The startup accused Google of abusing its dominant position in mobile, and of squashing emerging competition.
“Until wide-reaching change is brought about to prevent companies like Google from abusing their dominant market positions, consumers and innovation will continue to suffer,” the company said.
Google’s monopoly power is under a lot of scrutiny right now
Anything that suggests monopolistic behaviour is bad news for Google right now.
The company is under considerable scrutiny for its practices in search and mobile, and there has never been greater regulatory appetite for a break-up.
The European Commission fined Google a record $2.47 billion (£1.85 billion) last June for promoting its own shopping service in search results. The competition watchdog is examining two other Google antitrust cases, and media reports suggest a second big fine is due in July.