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EU Antitrust Probe Will Make Android Leaner & Meaner

April 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Microsoft-led pressure group may simply create a a stronger mobile rival…

In early 2000 Google employees Paul Buchheit and Amit Patel were sat in a company meeting being a nuisance. “[We] kept kind of forcing them to put it up there,” recalls Buchheit. “And because we wouldn’t let it fall off the list, it made it onto the final set and took on a life of its own from there. Amit started writing it down all over the building, on whiteboards everywhere. It’s the only value that anyone is aware of, right?” ‘Don’t be evil’ was born.

Thirteen years later Google finds itself at the opposite end of the spectrum at the centre of a spiralling EU antitrust investigation. It has already spent the last three years under scrutiny for manipulating search results to promote its own services, but now Microsoft-led lobby group ‘FairSearch’ wants to bring Android into the mix as well.

1The Case for the Prosecution “Google is using its Android mobile operating system as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to deceive partners, monopolize the mobile marketplace, and control consumer data”, said FairSearch counsel Thomas Vinje in an official announcement this week. “We are asking the Commission to move quickly and decisively to protect competition and innovation in this critical market. Failure to act will only embolden Google to repeat its desktop abuses of dominance as consumers increasingly turn to a mobile platform dominated by Google’s Android operating system.”

FairSearch argues Google only achieves its dominance in the smartphone market (approximately 70 per cent at the end of 2012) by giving away Android ‘free’ but that “in reality, Android phone makers who want to include must-have Google apps such as Maps, YouTube or Play are required to pre-load an entire suite of Google mobile services and to give them prominent default placement on the phone”. The result, it claims, puts rivals at an unfair disadvantage and sees Google increasingly gain control of consumer data on mobile as it has on the desktop.

How is the arguably greater control exerted by Apple, BlackBerry and indeed Microsoft itself enforced on their own mobile platforms not caused cries of hypocrisy? Because such practises are only punishable when a company achieves a monopoly. Something FairSearch argues Android now has.

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The Case for the Defence If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it should. In 2006 the EU ordered Microsoft to pay €497 million, at the time its largest ever fine, for exploiting the 90 per cent monopoly Windows enjoyed by forcing hardware partners to pre-load its entire suite of desktop services. At the heart of it was Windows Media Player and Microsoft was told to produce a version of Windows without Windows Media Player within 90 days. Yes technology’s power shifts are a game of musical chairs.

That said Google’s legal position in 2013 is arguably fair stronger than Microsoft’s in 2006. For a start Android is open source and anyone is able to fork the OS as they choose and pre-install whatever services they like. Android without core Google services installed doesn’t get Google certification, but that seems a fair compromise. Similarly Android offers users the choice to switch default apps away from Google’s core services.

Meanwhile the allegation that Android has an unfair advantage in being free is somewhat disingenuous. In 2011 HTC admitted it pays Microsoft a minimum of $5 per Android handset in patent royalties and Microsoft’s own financial results have shown it earns more from Android patent payments that it does from Windows Phone.

The Future – Be Evil?

While the only certainty in sizeable legal disputes is that lawyers get rich, the bigger question for Google is what the investigation means for the future of Android…

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This is a sample, to read about why FairSearch may ultimately force Android to become a beast that cannot be controlled click here for the full editorial @ TrustedReviews.

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

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