We’ve asked Google for comments.
While the option of sideloading the app softens the blow, this won’t exactly thrill the community. Multiple governments (including the US, UK, France, and Germany) use Element and the Matrix network alongside universities and businesses — losing easy access to the app could be a significant hassle.
The move comes as tech giants have become increasingly sensitive to the content in apps they provide or host. Apple and Google both cracked down on Parler following the US Capitol riot, for instance. However, if Google pulled Element for content that wasn’t on the app maker’s servers, that would be problematic — it would effectively ask the team to screen an entire online platform, not just the section it can moderate.
Update 1/31 10 AM ET: Element has returned to the Play Store. A Google VP contacted the company and indicated that “extremely abusive” material was on a Matrix.org server. Element had already taken action. It’s not sure why Google hadn’t provided more help before, but the crisis is over for Matrix users.