The AppGratis blog is displayed on a computer screen

France’s digital industry minister has become embroiled in a dispute between Apple and a French start-up, as she accused the US technology giant of being “extremely brutal” for banning the smaller company’s service from its App Store.

In a sign of the increasing willingness of Paris to challenge the business practices of global internet companies, Fleur Pellerin called on Apple to “behave ethically” and said it had removed the AppGratis service “unilaterally and without explanation”.

The application, which claims to have about 12m users, offers users of Apple mobile devices one free app a day, but the US company removed it last week, saying it broke commercial rules such as Apple’s ban on promoting other vendors’ apps.

“This isn’t virtuous and dignified behaviour for a company of that scale,” Ms Pellerin said, adding that there were many similar applications to AppGratis available at the App Store.

Ms Pellerin said her intervention was aimed at getting Apple to return to the negotiating table with AppGratis, which employs 45 people and has just raised €10m from investors including France Telecom and Publicis.

But she warned separately that the “behaviour of certain [internet] giants has to make us think about legislation” and that she would lead a government examination into the “disequilibrium” in commercial relations between big internet companies and start-ups.

The minister’s intervention, made during a visit to the start-up’s premises in Paris on Thursday, is the latest in a series of attempts by the French government to impose its will on large technology companies.

Last month the country’s telecoms regulator asked French prosecutors to launch an investigation into Microsoft’s Skype, after the instant message group ignored requests to register in France as a telecoms operator.

France has also been leading the European charge against Google over its use of newspaper articles and its privacy policies, while Twitter has been ordered by a French court to identify people behind a spate of anti-semitic and other racist tweets.

Apple said it had removed AppGratis from the App Store for violating two of its guidelines. One states that apps cannot promote other vendors’ apps, and the other prohibits using Apple’s operating system’s notification system for paid-for promotions.

The US company declined to comment further, but the AppGratis removal is likely part of a broader campaign to prevent the unauthorised commercialisation of the App Store.

A person close to Apple disputed the minister’s claim that AppGratis had been given no right of reply, saying the US company had been in talks with the start-up since the removal.

Ms Pellerin said there was an argument to apply the principle of net neutrality – the idea that there exists a right of equal access to the internet that France is considering enshrining legally – to “platforms” such as the App Store.

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