Much to the surprise of many Android users, Alibaba-owned UC Browser disappeared from Google Play Store recently. The direct link to app’s Google Play listing now states – “We’re sorry, the requested URL was not found on this server,” indicating that Google has removed the browser from its store.
UC Browser is very popular in several developing markets including India, primarily because of the integrated fast download, data Saving, and ad-block functionalities, which are very useful on slow networks and limited data plans. As per the last count, there were over 500 million installs of the UC Browser via the Play Store.
There has been no official comment from Google or UC Web about the app’s removal so far. I have written to the UC Web team seeking a statement and will update this report if I hear anything back from the company (check the update at the end of the post).
Meanwhile on Reddit, where the news of UC Browser’s disappearance first emerged, the speculation is rife on what could have been the reasoning behind the sudden disappearance of this web browser. Many Redditors believe that the UC Browser removal might be related to Indian government’s alleged investigation into the browser for data theft and transfer of Indian users’ data to Chinese servers. This theory seems unlikely unless Google actually found proof of any illicit activities in the app.
On the other hand, one Twitter user, who claims to work for UC Browser, stated that he had received an email saying that UC Browser was removed from Google Play for “Misleading” and “Unhealthy” methods of promotion to increase installs. I could not independently verify if this Twitter user actually works for UC Browser, however, the UC browser uses an affiliate program to drive its adoption and installs and some of these affiliates have been found to be using shady-tactics in the past to increase the installs and their affiliate revenue. So it is plausible that Google has removed the browser because of activities of these affiliates, who are the responsibility of the UC Browser.
At the time of writing this report, UC Browser continues to be unavailable and I will update this story if I hear back from the company or anything changes on the Google Play end.
Update: I have heard back from UCWeb and the company says that there was an issue with a setting in the UC Browser, which wasn’t in line with Google’s policies. They have fixed the problem and a new version has been uploaded and is waiting to be evaluated by Google. Here is the full official statement:
“We were informed by Google Play about temporary removal of UC Browser from the Play Store for 7 days, beginning 13 Nov 2017, under the reason that a certain setting of UC Browser is not in line with Google’s policy. We have conducted an urgent internal investigation and fixed the problem. The new version has been uploaded on Google Play’s Developer Console and is awaiting evaluation. We will actively cooperate with Google Play for any concern caused by this unintentional error.”
PS: The UC Browser Mini from UCWeb remains unaffected and is available for download.