Platform energy is a helluva a drug. Do a search on Google’s Play retailer in Europe and also you’ll discover the corporate’s personal Gboard app has an age score of PEGI 3 — aka the pan-European sport info labelling system which signifies content material is appropriate for all age teams.
PEGI 3 means it could nonetheless include a bit of cartoon violence. Say, for instance, an emoji fist or center finger.
Now do a search on Play for the rival Fleksy keyboard app and also you’ll discover it has a PEGI 12 age score. This label signifies the rated content material can include barely extra graphic fantasy violence and delicate dangerous language.
The discrepancy in labelling suggests there’s a fabric distinction between Gboard and Fleksy — by way of the content material you would possibly encounter. Yet each are fairly related keyboard apps — with options like predictive emoji and baked in GIFs. Gboard additionally enables you to create customized emoji. While Fleksy places mini apps at your fingertips.
A extra main distinction is that Gboard is made by Play Store proprietor and platform controller, Google. Whereas Fleksy is an indie keyboard that since 2017 has been developed by ThingThing, a startup primarily based out of Spain.
Fleksy’s keyboard didn’t used to hold a 12+ age score — this can be a new improvement. Not primarily based on its content material altering however primarily based on Google implementing its Play Store insurance policies otherwise.
The Fleksy app, which has been on the Play Store for round eight years at this level — and per Play Store set up stats has had greater than 5M downloads up to now — was PEGI 3 score till earlier this month. But then Google stepped in and compelled the group to up the score to 12. Which means the Play Store description for Fleksy in Europe now charges it PEGI 12 and specifies it accommodates “Mild Swearing”.

The Play retailer’s system for age rankings requires builders to fill in a content material rankings type, responding to a sequence of questions on their app’s content material, with the intention to get hold of a urged score.
Fleksy’s group have finished so over time — and give you the PEGI 3 score with out subject. But this month they discovered they had been being issued the questionnaire a number of occasions after which that their newest app replace was blocked with out clarification — that means they needed to attain out to Play Developer Support to ask what was going mistaken.
After some electronic mail forwards and backwards with help employees they had been informed that the app contained age inappropriate emoji content material. Here’s what Google wrote:
During assessment, we discovered that the content material score just isn’t correct to your app… Content rankings are used to tell shoppers, particularly mother and father, of probably objectionable content material that exists inside an app.
For instance, we discovered that your app accommodates content material (e.g. emoji) that isn’t applicable for all ages. Please seek advice from the hooked up screenshot.
In the hooked up screenshot Google’s employees fingered the center finger emoji as the rationale for blocking the replace:

 
“We never thought a simple emoji is meant to be 12+,” ThingThing CEO Olivier Plante tells us.
With their replace rejected the group was pressured to boost the score of Fleksy to PEGI 12 — simply to get their replace unblocked so they might push out a spherical of bug fixes for the app.
That’s not the tip of the saga, although. Google’s Play Store group continues to be not pleased with the regional age score for Fleksy — and needs to push the score even increased — claiming, in a subsequent electronic mail, that “your app contains mature content (e.g. emoji) and should have higher rating”.
Now, to be crystal clear, Google’s personal Gboard app additionally accommodates the center finger emoji. We are 100% certain of this as a result of we double-checked…
Emojis accessible on Google’s Gboard keyboard, together with the ‘screw you’ center finger. Photo credit score: Romain Dillet/TechSwitch
This is no surprise. Pretty a lot any smartphone keyboard — native or add-on — would include this image as a result of it’s a completely normal emoji.
But when Plante identified to Google that the center finger emoji may be present in each Fleksy’s and Gboard’s keyboards — and requested them to drop Fleksy’s score again to PEGI 3 like Gboard — the Play group didn’t reply.
A PEGI 16 score means the depiction of violence (or sexual exercise) “reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life”, per official steering on the labels, whereas using dangerous language may be “more extreme”, and content material could embrace using tobacco, alcohol or unlawful medicine.
And keep in mind Google is objecting to “mature” emoji. So maybe its app reviewers have been clutching at their pearls after discovering different normal emojis which depict stuff like glasses of beer, martinis and wine… 🤦‍♀️
Over on the US Play Store, in the meantime, the Fleksy app is rated “teen”.
While Gboard is — yup, you guessed it! — ‘E for Everyone’… 🤔

 
Plante says the double normal Google is imposing by itself app vs third occasion keyboards is infuriating, and he accuses the platform big of anti-competitive habits.
“We’re all-in for competition, it’s healthy… but incumbent players like Google playing it unfair, making their keyboard 3+ with identical emojis, is another showcase of abuse of power,” he tells TechSwitch.
A fast search of the Play Store for different third occasion keyboard apps finds a mix of rankings — most rated PEGI 3 (resembling Microsoft-owned SwiftKey and Grammarly Keyboard); some PEGI 12 (resembling Facemoji Emoji Keyboard which, per Play Store’s abstract accommodates “violence”).
Only one which we might discover among the many high listed keyboard apps has a PEGI 16 score.
This is an app referred to as Classic Big Keyboard — whose itemizing specifies it accommodates “Strong Language” (and what keyboard won’t, frankly!?). Though, judging by the Play retailer screenshots, it seems to be a reasonably lavatory normal keyboard that merely presents adjustable key sizes. As nicely as, sure, normal emoji.
“It came as a surprise,” says Plante describing how the difficulty with Play began. “At first, in the past weeks, we started to fill in the rating reviews and I got constant emails the rating form needed to be filled with no details as why we needed to revise it so often (6 times) and then this last week we got rejected for the same reason. This emoji was in our product since day 1 of its existence.”
Asked whether or not he can consider any set off for Fleksy to come back below scrutiny by Play retailer reviewers now, he says: “We don’t know why but for sure we’re progressing nicely in the penetration of our keyboard. We’re growing fast for sure but unsure this is the reason.”
“I suspect someone is doubling down on competitive keyboards over there as they lost quite some grip of their search business via the alternative browsers in Europe…. Perhaps there is a correlation?” he provides, referring to the European Commission’s antitrust determination towards Google Android final yr — when the tech big was hit with a $5BN nice for varied breaches of EU competitors regulation. A nice which it’s interesting.
“I’ll continue to fight for a fair market and am glad that Europe is leading the way in this,” provides Plante.
Following the EU antitrust ruling towards Android, which Google is legally compelled to adjust to throughout any appeals course of, it now shows selection screens to Android customers in Europe — providing various search engines like google and browsers for obtain, alongside Google’s personal dominate search  and browser (Chrome) apps.
However the corporate nonetheless retains loads of levers it could pull and push to affect the presentation of content material inside its dominant Play Store — influencing how rival apps are perceived by Android customers and so whether or not or not they select to obtain them.
So requiring {that a} keyboard app rival will get badged with a a lot increased age score than Google’s personal keyboard app isn’t an excellent look to say the least.
We reached out to Google for an evidence in regards to the discrepancy in age rankings between Fleksy and Gboard and can replace this report with any additional response. At first look a spokesman agreed with us that the state of affairs seems to be odd.

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