Providers of one of the more popular tethering apps for Google's Android-based G1 handset have had their application summarily dumped from the application store, at the apparent behest of mobile operator T-Mobile.
Tethering applications have been available through the Android Marketplace for a while, but developers of Wifi Tether for Root Users report receiving an email stating that their applications breach the terms and conditions of T-Mobile and are thus being removed from the marketplace.
Tethering involves attaching a laptop or similar to a mobile phone in order to utilise its data connectivity - ideally a 3G connection - generally over a USB connection but increasingly over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Phones have provided this functionality for a decade or so, longer if you count IR connections. But the growth of unlimited-but-actually-capped data tariffs - and punters actually using mobile data - have caused network operators to pull the wire where they can.
For most operators, that means putting it in the terms and conditions of the cheaper data tariffs, and enforcing it where a user is obviously surfing on a laptop. But for operators with control over the application-distribution channel, there is another option - prevent users getting hold of tethering applications.
Such apps used to be available for the iPhone, but were swiftly excised from the iTunes app store and are now limited to jail-broken handsets. Android is supposed to be a more open platform, so it's strange to see Google openly admitting it's beholden to T-Mobile, though the position of Google clearly lays the blame at the network operator's door:
"Google enters into distribution agreements with device manufacturers and Authorized Carriers to place the Market software client application for the Market on Devices. These distribution agreements may require the involuntary removal of Products in violation of the Device manufacturer’s or Authorized Carrier’s terms of service."
It does open up the prospect of applications only working, or being allowed, when connected to specific carriers or tariffs: hardly the homogenised vision that Android was supposed to live up to. Of course, the big difference between Android and the iPhone is the ability of Android users to buy their software elsewhere. But while the current generation of users might well do that, if the Android vision goes to plan, the next lot will be a lot less technical and thus more likely to stay within the Marketplace and its rules. ®