Apps store player Aptoide ramped its rhetoric against Google, which it said is damaging customer freedom with its work to prioritise its own app catalogue.

Aptoide said since summer 2018, Google Play Protect (its built-in malware protection software for Android) had flagged Aptoide as a harmful app, hiding it in user’s devices and requesting they uninstall. It argued Google is “preventing users from freely choosing their preferred app store”.

In a tweet, Aptoide co-founder and CEO Paulo Trezentos said the company believes between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of its 222 million users had been blocked. “Fortunately, we still have positive growth,” he wrote, adding: “How many start-ups out there with good products are stopped by Google, Amazon or Facebook practices”?

The independent store said in a blog that analysis by Wased University in Japan affirmed Aptoide has the lowest rate of malware of any store and all major antivirus scans confirm the app is safe.

While the company said Google had not provided any information on why the app was flagged as harmful, it is likely it fell foul of guidelines preventing apps from subsequently installing other software. As an app catalogue, this is exactly what it does.

Android Authority said: “for what it’s worth, Aptoide also hosts more than a few pirated games and apps”.

Google has been in the firing line for its practices around Android, particularly with regard to the impact on competition. It received a hefty fine from the EU, and reports this week suggest US watchdogs may be lining up for another crack.

Aptoide also pointed to a legal action in Portugal, where it said Google has not complied with a court order to stop Play Protect from removing the app store.

Recent reports suggested Huawei held talks with Aptoide to become its app store partner in place of Google.

Trezentos told TechCrunch there had been conversations for “some months”, including testing of APIs, but the process “had not been accelerated or delayed by the recent news”.