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European Commission Accuses Google Of Abusing Android’s Dominant Market Position

The European Commission charged Google with abusing its dominant position in the mobile market with its Android operating system by forcing or paying companies to install its own apps exclusively.

Mandatory Pre-Installed Apps

The main issue, according to the European Commission, seems to be that Google is requiring mobile manufacturers to pre-install Google Search and the Google Chrome browser, thus denying consumers a wider choice in the apps they use and stifling innovation.

The European Union’s charges are similar to the ones Yandex, the Russian search engine, made against Google recently. Yandex ended up winning that case last year. The current antitrust case joins another one the European Union opened against Google involving the company’s promotion of its shopping services at the expense of competitors.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "A competitive mobile internet [sic] sector is increasingly important for consumers and businesses in Europe. Based on our investigation thus far, we believe that Google's behavior denies consumers a wider choice of mobile apps and services and stands in the way of innovation by other players, in breach of EU antitrust rules. These rules apply to all companies active in Europe. Google now has the opportunity to reply to the Commission's concerns."

The European Commission (EC) said that Google is considered dominant in the market for general Internet search services, licensable mobile operating systems, and app stores for the Android mobile operating system. The company has over 90 percent market share in each of these markets within the European Economic Area.

Google’s response to this accusation is that any company is free to use Android without Google services. However, EC’s argument is that if companies install the Play Store, then they also have to install Google Search. Therefore, the issue is not about being unable to use Android without any Google services, but that Google tries to maintain its monopoly in search through its monopoly in the Android app ecosystem. In other words, Google’s response doesn’t directly address the Commission’s argument.

Preventing Android Forks

Beyond pre-installing its own apps on Android, the Commission also took issue with the fact that Google prevents companies from using other operating systems that use Android source code. Android is supposed to be open source, but through the contracts Google makes OEMs sign, it can block them from using the code within competing operating systems.

For instance, if Amazon ever decided to sell a “Google Android” device, it wouldn’t be able to also sell its own Fire OS-based devices. Other Android manufacturers would also be unable to adopt Fire OS in their own devices without losing the ability to use Google’s Android as well.

Google justified this as an “anti-fragmentation agreement” that it makes with smartphone manufacturers. Google made the argument that it can’t allow other companies to make “Android-like” operating systems on which some Android apps wouldn’t work because of various incompatibility issues.

Google has a point here, but perhaps this could easily be solved as a trademark issue: just don’t let anyone use the name "Android" for any Android fork. Then it shouldn’t matter if those competing operating systems use Android code or not, because they wouldn’t technically be "Android" anyway.

Perhaps Google’s real issue with is that it doesn’t want other companies to use code it has spent years developing and in which it may have invested billions of dollars. However, the counter-point to that would be that it was Google that decided to open source its operating system, when it could’ve kept it proprietary, because it thought this would give it a much higher adoption rate compared to iOS. Now Google has to live with both the good and the “bad” consequences of that decision.

Open source software inevitably gets forked, because that’s sort of the whole point of it. Google already uses Chromium and Chrome as two separate projects. Google doesn’t seem to care too much what other people do with Chromium (even Opera uses it now), but they do care what they do with Chrome, because that is the company's proprietary product that’s based on Chromium.

Perhaps it’s time for Google to make a more clear distinction between the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and Android, or Android and “Google Android” (or give it another name entirely). Then Google shouldn’t care what happens to the open source Android project, either.

Financial Incentives For Exclusivity

Another issue that the European Commission mentioned is that Google is giving financial incentives to companies if they exclusively install Google search on their devices. Given Google’s dominant position in the market, it’s not all that surprising that the EC would take issue with this. Intel was fined by the EU years ago over a similar issue--paying manufacturers to exclusively use its own chips in notebooks.

Google hasn’t directly responded to this accusation so far.

Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu. 

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  • Dantte
    So I bought a device the other day, it came with duracell batteries (not Energizer); that company must be sued because they are "thus denying consumers a wider choice in the" batteries "they use and stifling innovation."

    The European Commision must be full of a bunch of morons!
    Reply
  • ohim
    Not again this european crap... they did it in the past with Microsoft, now they go after Google, but somehow they never seem to mind Apple ... And to be honest i find it fair that each OS developer to put w/e they want as default in their OS... if Opera / Firefox doesn`t like it then they should make their own OS.
    Reply
  • thundervore
    Honestly this makes sense. Google is bad at doing this.

    For instance my Galaxy 6 came with Google apps preinstalled that I could not uninstall, or didn't even want because there were better alternatives My only choice was to disable them.

    Google Play Books - Never used or will use
    Google Play Movies & TV- Never used or will use
    Google Music- Never used or will use
    Google News Stand- Never used or will use
    Chrome - I use Samsung browser with Adblock add in. Way better than chrome on a phone

    So Google needs to stop shoving these apps down customers throat. If I wanted the apps I know that I could always find them in Google Play.
    Reply
  • targetdrone
    Manufactures never offering an OS upgrade for a device is a bigger problem than Google making them install Maps.
    Reply
  • jimmysmitty
    17847461 said:
    Honestly this makes sense. Google is bad at doing this.

    For instance my Galaxy 6 came with Google apps preinstalled that I could not uninstall, or didn't even want because there were better alternatives My only choice was to disable them.

    Google Play Books - Never used or will use
    Google Play Movies & TV- Never used or will use
    Google Music- Never used or will use
    Google News Stand- Never used or will use
    Chrome - I use Samsung browser with Adblock add in. Way better than chrome on a phone

    So Google needs to stop shoving these apps down customers throat. If I wanted the apps I know that I could always find them in Google Play.

    The majority of users are not as able as tech savvy people. The apps that come by default are what they use. Honestly what surprises me more is that the EU is going after Google now when not too long ago Apple was the dominant smart phone and they have all their apps pre-installed as well.

    I am not a fan of Google but Android is their OS and they are not forcing you to use their OS nor do they force you to use their apps. You may not be able to uninstall them but I don't see why a company is required to offer anything on their own product other than their products.

    If Google was not allowing you as the consumer to install and use another map program, then yea sue the hell out of them. That is not the case though as you can disable and install any map app you want.
    Reply
  • targetdrone
    Euro is mad because Euro is dominated by US tech companies so they sue to extort money. Euro has even gone after Amazon.
    Reply
  • house70
    Fact is, EU is going broke fast, and that is due to their leaders' inept political decisions. This so-called "consumerism" is just a screen for extortion. I will only believe they're honest about it when they go after ALL tech companies that have a significant market share and use same "bad" practices as Google /Microsoft do. The big fruity company comes to mind as a prime example of exclusivism.
    Reply
  • abbadon_34
    How is it Apple NEVER gets targeted? The cynic in me says its because they put Al Gore on it board of directors in 2003, but I really can't find any other explanation.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    1. Microsoft
    2. Google

    Apple is not currently targeted because they 'appear' cool and friendly. And a large voting block of the younger generation lurvs them some Apple.

    Eventually, we WILL see
    3. Apple.
    Reply
  • jojesa
    Who's stopping users from installing any other alternative to Google apps. I have an Android and I don't use Google camera app, I use Firefox instead of Chrome, BlueMail, I use DuckDuckGo, Bing and Google search depending on what I need.
    Reply