Element suspended on Google Play Store: now resolved.

January 30, 2021

Hi all,

At 2021-01-29 at 21:35 UTC Google suspended Element from the Play Store without warning or notification.  We submitted an appeal asking for clarification at 23:18, and at 05:31 received a generic update from the Google Play Policy team citing that the app has been removed due to content which contravenes their terms of use, and asking us to “make the necessary changes to [our] app” and “upload a new app using a new package name and a new app name”.

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.

We have also explained that the Matrix servers that we do run as Element (including the default Matrix.org homeserver, which we run on behalf of The Matrix.org Foundation) have strict Terms of Use which we actively enforce. We abhor abuse, and Element is not an app that caters to abusive content.

In order to enforce our terms of use on the Matrix servers we run as Element, we have a formal Trust and Safety team hired full-time who are dedicated to investigating and tracking abuse reports sent to [email protected] or reported from the app.  The team takes appropriate action on a ticket by ticket basis - deactivating abusive accounts and blocking chatrooms from our servers which contravene our terms of use, and building tooling to help enforce the terms of use on the servers we run.

Managing abuse is an ongoing activity, and Matrix is expanding massively at the moment. We are expanding Element’s Trust and Safety team to match that growth, focusing on improving our anti-abuse mechanisms, and we are also constantly expanding the moderation tools we provide to the community.

Meanwhile, we’re also continuing to work on decentralised reputation as a scalable solution to empower other users to combat abuse for the wider Matrix network - effectively bringing control back to users and empowering communities to remain safe online.

Element and Matrix are used by the French, German, UK and US governments, countless universities, thousands of businesses and millions of people across the world - we can only apologise for the disruption caused by the app disappearing like this.

We’re currently waiting for an update to Google and will keep this blog post updated as the situation develops.  We look forward to resolving the problem and getting the app back in the store shortly.

-- The Element Team

Update: reminder that in the interim you can download a (slightly outdated) version of Element Android from F-Droid at https://f-droid.org/en/packages/im.vector.app.  We're also looking into running our own F-Droid repository going forwards so the most recent build is always available there.

UPDATE: At 2021-01-30 23:17 UTC we received a call from a VP at Google who apologised for the bad communication from Google and explained the situation, which related to some extremely abusive content which was accessible on the default matrix.org homeserver.  Our Trust and Safety team had already identified and acted on this content to enforce the server's terms of use, and so we've explained how Element and Matrix works, established a channel for communication over any future moderation concerns, and expect the app to be restored shortly.

UPDATE: The app is restored as of 2021-01-31 00:30 UTC.  Huge thanks to everyone for your patience and support while we sorted this out, and to the wider Element team who spent their Saturday on this.  Thanks also to Google for being transparent and apologetic and the rapid resolution once we'd established contact.

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