Google says the middle finger emoji requires a higher age rating.

What you need to know

  • Fleksy recently saw its age rating raised to PEGI 12 in Europe.
  • The keyboard developers claim Google has unfairly targeted their app.
  • The move was a result of Google’s reviewers finding fault with Fleksy’s inclusion of a middle finger emoji.

One of the most popular third-party keyboards for Android, Fleksy, this week saw its age rating raised to PEGI 12 in Europe (and also Asia per my testing). Why? Anticompetitive practices by Google allege ThingThing, the team behind the app.

ThingThing CEO Olivier Plante told TechCrunch that the company has included a middle finger emoji in its app for years now, and has never had to raise its age rating from the PEGI 3 label that Google’s own Gboard currently flaunts in the Play Store.

However, as of last month, Plante says the Android maker’s app reviewers incessantly kept asking the dev team to fill in a content rating form multiple times and with no explanation as to why. Then, the app’s latest update was blocked, as a Google employee told ThingThing that their app’s age rating needed to be raised to PEGI 12, and pointed to Fleksy’s inclusion of a middle finger emoji as the reason why. In fact, Play Store reps subsequently pushed ThingThing to raise the keyboard’s rating even higher.

While that may not be entirely surprising, what did rub Plante the wrong way is that Google’s own keyboard features the same emoji, and has retained the PEGI 3 rating. “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 said.

He also pointed to the fact that the emoji is not a new addition: “This emoji was in our product since day 1 of its existence.” Musing on the reasoning behind Google’s sudden change of heart, he suggested Google’s recent troubles in Europe may have motivated the search giant to start playing dirty:

“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?”

We’ve asked Google to clarify the rather obvious dichotomy here — Microsoft’s SwiftKey also has the same emoji and is rated PEGI 3 — and will update the article if the company replies.

Typing tornado

Fleksy

Free at the Google Play Store

The fast keyboard

Fleksy for Android is one of the most popular third-party keyboards for Android. Eschewing gesture typing for an amped-up autocorrect, Fleksy boasts a record for the fastest keyboard. It also features all the usual doodads you’ve come to expect from an Android keyboard, including an emoji keyboard, GIFs, and custom theming

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