Google vs. EU: Android Antitrust Charges in the Horizon

Google vs. EU: Android Antitrust Charges in the Horizon

A new report originating from Reuters claims that Google is about to get charged in the European Union over abusing Android for unfair promotion of its own apps and services on the OS.

Antitrust allegations over Google have been an ongoing topic of hot debate, with governments and judicial machinery of several nations alleging Google for taking unfair advantage of the Android platform. Our very own Mario has written about the War for Open Android in the past, which I recommend reading for a clearer understanding of the problem at hand.

Investigations against Google started off with the European Union challenging Google for manipulating search results. These then extended over to how Google maintains it share on the web, with Android and Play Store eventually coming under scrutiny.

The basic gist of all the events leading up to the aforementioned charges starts of with the MADA (Mobile Application Distribution Agreement). One such MADA with Samsung is present here. The MADA dictates that in order to package a Google app in an OEM phone, they must include all of Google’s apps and services, as mentioned by Google. This usually extends onto the OEM decision to bundle the Google Play Store on Android, which is an open source OS. So, if you wish to put the Play Store on the device, you need to pre-install the rest of the application suite as well.

Now, there are a few arguments for and against all of this. Android is an Open Source OS, which means the OEMs are free to compile, use and distribute the OS without any obligations to Google or any other third party (except for any government regulations that may exist in the country) outside of open source licence terms. However, one of the biggest caveats of shipping a phone with bare-bones stock AOSP would be the lack of a straightforward method to install 3rd party applications. Methods still exist, but they often lack the reach and popularity of the Google Play Store. [Infact, phones in China ship without Google services, because of which alternate methods of app distribution are popular there.]

Because of this, OEMs end up in a catch-22 situation: they can either choose to skip Google services entirely or they have to agree for bundling the full suite of applications just to allow access to one particular app. Apps are what lends power to the OS, as once can see in the three horse race of the mobile OS with iOS, Android and Windows. So to take a decision to not ship with Google Play Store (or an alternative app store) will spell doom for the product. One can ship with an FOSS alternative, but these are quite restrictive in the apps that they allow, and would not suffice for the needs of the common user. As such, not bundling Google Services (outside of regions like China) is not a good business decision.

But this business decision for an OEM puts Google in the spot of prime focus for the consumer. Google’s productivity suite comes preloaded onto Android phones, the search bar on the homescreen belongs to Google and the Play Store of course is Google. Reuter’s report mentions that Google generated an estimated $11 billion last year from ads running on Android phones. This figure becomes all the more believable when you consider the absolute vast quantities of Android smartphones in existence. The licensing and subsequent bundling of Google Services definitely contributes to this cause.

Arguments against Google point that the licensing deal kills off room for the OEMs to load competing apps. This in turn stifles competition, giving Google an unfair competitive edge gained from strong arming OEMs through means of the license. Further, if OEMs do put in competitive apps, they are often classified as bloatware *cough*Samsung*cough* as Google Apps have become to be known as the primary software, despite not being a part of stock AOSP. The user ends up living with two different apps to achieve the same purpose, and ends up favoring the better and despising the OEM alternative.

If the European Union finds Google guilty of market abuse, they can charge fines up to $7.4 Billion (10% of revenue from 2015), while also forcing a modification of Google’s business practice. This could further affect how Google manages its revenue, as it could then push for aggressive ads and cut down margins for middlemen. A decision for the European Union could also spark decisions in other parts of the world, such as Russia and the USA. The cumulative effect of the decision of these nations, as well as subsequent antitrust proceedings against other companies, can potentially change the way we use the Internet and smartphones, for better or for worse. There is a lot that can shape the future of Android as we know it, and we hope the decisions are taken with all such factors kept in mind.

Do you think Google stifles competition by pushing for its bundled productivity suite onto phones? Should there be an actual alternative in the form of a competing app store, for the common consumer? Is an actually Open Android still a pipe dream? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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About author

Aamir Siddiqui
Aamir Siddiqui

I am a tech journalist with XDA since 2015, while being a qualified business-litigation lawyer with experience in the field. A low-end smartphone purchase in 2011 brought me to the forums, and it's been a journey filled with custom ROMs ever since. When not fully dipped in smartphone news, I love traveling to places just to capture pictures of the sun setting. You can reach out to me at [email protected]