Hide Techdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.

Some Thoughts On The EU's Latest $5 Billion Google Antitrust Fine

from the what's-best-for-innovation? dept

As was widely expected, earlier today, the EU Commission brought down its latest antitrust fine against Google, this time for an eye-popping $5 billion. The number gets the attention, but it’s worth looking at the underlying details here. This was the result of a two year investigation, specifically into certain bundling practices that Google used concerning Android and some of its apps. When Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager first announced the investigation in April of 2016, she more or less explained where they were headed:

The Commission’s preliminary view is that Google has implemented a strategy on mobile devices to preserve and strengthen its dominance in general internet search. First, the practices mean that Google Search is pre-installed and set as the default, or exclusive, search service on most Android devices sold in Europe. Second, the practices appear to close off ways for rival search engines to access the market, via competing mobile browsers and operating systems. In addition, they also seem to harm consumers by stifling competition and restricting innovation in the wider mobile space.

And… that’s more or less exactly what the Commission found in today’s announcement.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Today, mobile internet makes up more than half of global internet traffic. It has changed the lives of millions of Europeans. Our case is about three types of restrictions that Google has imposed on Android device manufacturers and network operators to ensure that traffic on Android devices goes to the Google search engine. In this way, Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine. These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.”

In particular, Google:

  • has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google’s app store (the Play Store);
  • made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and
  • has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called “Android forks”).

I’ve been critical of some antitrust activity and supportive of others over the years, and I think it’s important to take a step back and look at whether or not this actually will likely lead to greater innovation — no matter what the reasoning is (and, it should be noted, many European officials have made it clear they think EU antitrust activities should be used to harm American companies because they’re big and American, rather than for any principled reason concerning competition or innovation). And, of course, there are some people who simply hate big tech companies and will cheer on any attack on them whether it’s for good or bad reasons.

Just to set some signposts for the discussion: I believe, and have argued strongly over the years, that competition is the key to innovation and innovation is an important component of making everyone’s lives better. You are free to disagree with those claims, but then we’re having a very different discussion. This is the lens through which I view this entire discussion. Based on that, antitrust activities are useful when they are used to stop truly harmful monopolistic practices that hold back competition and innovation. But, antitrust activities for other reasons, or which don’t seem likely to result in greater competition and innovation tend to be wasteful and silly. So… where does this latest fine from the EU come down?

As I noted when the investigation was first announced, it seemed that only one of the three “prongs” of the investigation really seemed like a big issue: the preventing manufacturers from selling phones with alternative versions of Android. There is a non-nefarious reason why Google might want this — because if those non-Google Android versions are poorly done, it could confuse people and reflect poorly on Google… but this condition could clearly be used to stifle competition and innovation in the space. There’s a reasonable argument that this was always a step too far, and Google never should have gone down that path in the first place.

The other reasons given for the fine remain… a lot less compelling. First, there’s the issue of tying Google search and Chrome to offering Google Play as a pre-installed app. First off, the EU admits (oddly) that this is unfair because everyone expects the Google Play store to be pre-installed:

As part of the Commission investigation, device manufacturers confirmed that the Play Store is a “must-have” app, as users expect to find it pre-installed on their devices (not least because they cannot lawfully download it themselves).

Okay, fair enough. But you know what that very same Play Store lets you do? Download other browsers and search apps. I don’t use Chrome on my phone (I use Firefox, Firefox Focus — which is fantastic, or Brave). I’ve even used alternative app stores in the past, but eventually shifted back to the Play Store, mainly because Google seemed to do a much better job of stopping dangerous or crappy apps from getting on my phone. And, as Google has suggested, part of the reason for requiring Chrome to be installed is that tons of other apps actually use Chrome components as part of how they work. So not installing Chrome with the Play Store would actually lead to a lot of apps not working properly.

The other issue for which Google was dinged was the payments to device manufacturers to make Google search the “exclusive” pre-installed search on those devices. Now, I could totally see a valid antitrust complaint on this point if Google were forcing manufacturers into this agreement against their will, and were able to force them to do so. But… here it’s about Google doing a business deal to pay manufacturers to be the exclusive. As we pointed out at the beginning of the investigation, how is that different than when Google paid Mozilla to be the default search engine in Firefox? Then Microsoft outbid Google and Bing became the default.

Either way, on this issue, Google stopped doing this practice entirely in 2014.

Google says it’s going to appeal this decision, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai is hinting that if the ruling is upheld, Google may no longer be able to offer Android for free in the EU. Google also argues that the way its designed its Android business has created a tremendous amount of choice — including providing smart phone / tablet / other devices that are available at price points and in markets where Google’s main competitor in this space, Apple, refuses to make any real offerings. And that’s a fairly compelling point.

The bigger question, again, though is what will be the real impact on innovation for end users of all of this. I’m not convinced (should this hold up) that it will have much of an impact either way. I doubt making any of the required changes will really harm Google that much (as noted, in at least one case, it already gave up the practice four years ago). But I also don’t see how any of the required changes really helps competitors or app developers in any significant way. It doesn’t make any of them more likely to get more users, or provide a better way for them to get their services out there.

One of the issues with anything having to do with innovation is that it’s impossible to envision the “innovation that would have occurred” in the counterfactual scenario in which the supposed antitrust violations never occurred. But looking over these issues, I’m hard pressed to think of how anything would have developed all that differently if Google hadn’t done these things in the first place. Perhaps Amazon’s Fire devices would have a larger market? Perhaps we’d have seen more innovation with other third parties building out their own versions of Android with their own playstores. But it seems unlikely that it would have materially changed how the search market and browser market developed.

Of course, it should be noted that there is some amount of karma here. Back during the Microsoft antitrust fight, Google stepped up in 2006 to complain to the EU Commission about Microsoft’s bundling and default practices. Specifically, Microsoft’s browser at the time included a built in search box that defaulted to Microsoft’s own search (at the time, called MSN search). And Google didn’t like that.

“The market favors open choice for search, and companies should compete for users based on the quality of their search services,” said Marissa Mayer, the vice president for search products at Google. “We don’t think it’s right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose.”

And, amusingly, Microsoft’s own response to that criticism was nearly identical to Google’s today, saying that “the user is in control” and it’s easy to change the defaults. So there’s absolutely some hypocrisy in how Google has acted through this whole thing.

However, in the end, I’m still hard pressed to see how today’s fine will actually change anything in a way that improves innovation and what the public gets to do. Google is competing with lots of companies on a variety of different fronts these days. Earlier this year we had a podcast exploring how companies might disrupt Google, and I don’t see how these moves make any of what we discussed any easier at all. Instead, it seems to be fighting the last fight, over mobile UI, rather than the next real competitive and innovative fights on different kinds of services.

Filed Under: , , , , , , , , , ,
Companies: google

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Some Thoughts On The EU's Latest $5 Billion Google Antitrust Fine”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
77 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

While I have to agree that Google behavior is much less “clean” than it was a few years ago I don’t really see how they are guilty of anything the EU thinks they are. As you noted, users are generally free to use other app stores, they don’t have to use Chrome and the search bar thing (which I will admit annoyed the heck out of me) could already be solved with a custom loader like the Nova one I used. There are other issues with Android that they could evaluate that may be more damning but these points?

This makes the EU sound like some petty “we don’t like American companies so let’s punish them” bunch than any real focus on protecting their constituents.

JarHead says:

Re: Re:

While I do find Android gave me tons of freedom, if we change the underlying assumption a little bit, it is easy to see why the EU rules the way it did.

If the underlying assumption is that the general public is dumb tech-illiterate drones who cannot put 2 and 2 together, everything must be spoonfed, then what Google did, or anyone who do thing the similar way, is indeed monopolistic.

My question then, does the EU sees its general public this way, as poor dumbfucks?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m been saying the EU think of the population as dumb, lazy children.

Because really, you can install and set as your default whatever browser and search engine you want to use. It’s not at all hard to do.

Does the EU think Google is just going to spend it’s million working on Android for free and just give away all of its services like Google Maps for example that costs a lot of money to do, and all the server farms to make it all work.

Google makes most of its money from ads from Google Search!!! So they want to allow other company’s, company’s that are getting Android for FREE to use so long as they put Google’s stuff on their phone front and center, expect Google to just allow them to remove things that allows them to make money?

The simple fact is, if you wanted, you can pretty much turn a Android phone into a Windows Phone. You can make it look like a Windows Phone. You can have Bing as your Default search and Edge as your browser, and use Cortana, etc. Google is not stopping any person who buys an Android phone from changing it to however they want.

Sounds like the EU really wants a fragmented Android mess on their hands, far worse than it is now.

See the simple fact is, these companies want their cake and eat it too. Think about it. If they are allowed to remove Google as the Search engine and Chrome as the browser, then what? Remember, Google pays Apple a bunch of money to make Google the default search on iOS. I change it right over to DuckDuckGo, but that’s beside the point. Because these companies races to the bottom in profits selling Android phones, they need some way to make more money. Why now try to get money from Google to continue to make Google and Chrome the default apps? Nothing changes other than Google is now paying them money. Maybe they can get it from Microsoft or ever else.

If I was Google, I’d do one of these 2 options. #1 Only sell Pixel Phones in the EU. Now you’re like Apple. There’s no 3rd party support given any longer in the EU. Anyone wanting to continue selling phones in the EU, will either have to find some other OS, or use the Open version of Android and have their own App store and services. In effect doing what has been done in China which Google has zero presence in. They’re on there own.

Or, Google starts Charging for Android. That covers access to Google App store and security updates. Any other of Google’s services, You the customer will have to pay. $20 or so per year to get access to Google Map’s and their other currently free stuff. Because it’s not being Ad supported anymore. Someone has to pay. Google can’t keep its door opens working for free. Other countries shouldn’t have to support EU access to Android and Google services.

All because the Children of the EU are so dumb and stupid that they can’t on their own use anything else then what is already there. Even though right NOW they can switch to a different default search and Browser and delete most of Google’s stuff. Don’t worry, let Mommy and Daddy (The EU Government) help you poor kids. You just don’t know better, WE do!!!

Really, this huge fine is just a way for them to STEAL more money from a rich American company because of their failed policies.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I parsed that description as being applied not to users who stick with the defaults, but to users who don’t and (at least without education) possibly can’t understand how to change from the defaults, or possibly even what the thing which they’re changing away from its default is – the level of lack of technical understanding shared by those people who used to refer to the blue E icon on their desktops as "the Internet", and think that if that icon went away they didn’t have access to the Internet anymore.

Not that it’s any more polite or helpful as applied to them, either, but that’s a much less broad brush than "users who stick with the defaults".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No because like Apple, it’s a closed system. Amazon is making the software and the hardware. There’s no 3rd party Amazon tablets.

Amazon is doing what they’re doing in China. They have their own modified version of the Open Android version Google throws out. They modify that for their own needs, create their own App stores and services.

See they don’t want to do that in the EU. They want Google to foot the bill. They want full access to Android. They want control of Search and the Browser, just because that way they can get Google to pay them to be the default search like they do Apple for iOS. At the same time, they don’t want to PAY for all the costs to put up and run their own App store or Create their own Mapping software and cars to map the world, like Google is doing, and on and on. No, they want to also use Google’s services for FREE also. All the while Google is now not getting paid by the Ad’s to cover the costs for all of this. How exactly is that fair?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

My Issues With Android

Include: all the apps that are installed by default and then that are not removable lest they break the system. To me, if something is part of the system then it should be part of the operating system, and not a separate app. Every app should be removable. I do understand that there are some exceptions to this, a text editor might be required by the OS, but games? Music? Cloud print? Books? Movies & TV, Hangouts? Now if what you want from the app store requires some other app, then mark it as a dependency, and let the user then decide.

Second, the inability to restrict app permissions without breaking an app. For example, if I don’t want an app to access my contact list, because the purpose of the app has nothing to do with contacts, it should be my determination, not the developers.

Third, well I don’t have a third but those first two are pretty strongly felt. On the other hand, I use my tablet mostly for reading books (I have my own source of books, don’t need Googles),(why they don’t make a decent 7″ device anymore really irks me) and secondarily for web and or maps when on the go. Though I would never even consider trying to bring the device across a US border, given current behaviors.

Well, third might be the fact that one cannot create a Google account anymore without a phone that receives text messages. I don’t have a phone, and while the offer of the ability to use someone else’s phone to do the authentication, that is not something I would impose upon any actual friend. It might expose them to things I wouldn’t wish upon others. Me…OK, others, no.

I just checked, my Android tablet allows several different search functions, but not the one I want, Duck Duck Go.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: My Issues With Android

To me, if something is part of the system then it should be part of the operating system, and not a separate app. Every app should be removable.

The problem with that is that it would mean updating any of these apps would require an OS update, which is a much more heavy-weight operation (with considerably more risk and more moving parts) than simply updating an installed app.

IMO the correct solution to that is a dependency system, however; let each app declare "I need X in order to operate correctly", and optionally declare "I provide X for any other apps that need it". That way, if you try to uninstall your last app that provides X while another still-present app still needs X, the system can either stop you (and explain why) or warn that the uninstall will cause this other thing to stop functioning (and possibly point you to an app-store list of all apps which provide X).

That’s considerably more complicated, of course, but IMO worth the trade-off.

(The alternative would be to make every app self-contained, with embedded copies of everything it depends on, at the expense of increased resource usage and worse security-update problems. The latter could be mitigated by a "use external copy if present, fall back to internal if not" system, but that would be making things even more complicated.)

Anonymous Coward says:

I hope Google makes EU pay for the right to use it

Google is popular enough to force the public to pay the fine through licenses for Android or chrome. I think it would be funny if most of Europe ended up pirating android from outside regions just to get around the artificially imposed fines that Europe thinks will magically solve their problems.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I hope Google makes EU pay for the right to use it

I have to solutions for Google for the EU. Because they want to use throw out Google Search and Browser, That’s just fine. If they now can’t get paid by ads, Google has to get paid another way. So Charge MONEY to these company’s to use Android. That covers the cost of Android, and the Security updates Google releases every single month.

Then the customers can pay Google $20 or so a month to use any of Google’s, what used to be FREE services. Things like Google Map. That way YOU aren’t forced to pay for things you aren’t going to use. We wouldn’t want that after all.

The other option Google could do is be like Apple in the EU. As in only selling Pixel phones in the EU. Not supporting any 3rd party’s. Selling pixel phones means Google controls the hardware and the software, just like Apple. No 3rd party support of Android at all in the EU. Basically pulled out like in China, other than their own phones. Any 3rd party’s that wanted to sell phones in the EU would either have to find and use some other OS, or they use the Open version of Android, have their own App store and other services. Ether LG, Sony, and others all do their own, or they group together. All of them can do anything they want with that forked version of Android, just like Amazon has done.

Problem solved for Google. All that FREE stuff is ad-supported. You take away the way Google makes their money, they’re going to have to be more like Apple. That is making their money from the hardware. Since it’s the Pixel phone, they even still make money from Ads anyway. So win, win for Google anyway.

ECA (profile) says:

read on another site..

OPINION..
CLICK(slam the phone down in the EU..)
HOW long will it be before the Consumer BITCHES out the EU(??)

WHERE in hell have these 60 year old been in the last 50 years?? TECH has been here along time, and I want to know WHERE they have been hiding, what CAVE have they found..

APPLE DID IT…(LOL) Apple paid them to look the other way… And google was the target…
Wait for it..
THEN THEY WILL LOOK AT APPLE…(LMAO)

WHO here, that have WINDOWS, can tell me HOW to change my search engine, and browser??

HOW IGNORANT can people be.. PLEASE TELL ME..just goto the Google store and look at all the options…or LEARN to program in linux, and MAKE your own app.

ALSO..
Any changes to ANDROID, done by the phone makers OR the Cellphone services IS THOSE SERVICES CHANGES, not googles..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: read on another site..

“WHERE in hell have these 60 year old been in the last 50 years?? TECH has been here along time, and I want to know WHERE they have been hiding, what CAVE have they found..”

50 years ago would have been 1968. Most state of the art radios at that time were simple transistor with most older ones being vacuum tube.

Isma'il says:

Re: read on another site..

“WHO here, that have WINDOWS, can tell me HOW to change my search engine, and browser?”

In Windows 10, install any browser you like and in the browser settings, choose whatever search engine you like. Some browsers, like Yandex Browser, will ask you for search preference upon first startup.

In Windows 10, to change the default browser, go to Start–> Settings–> Apps–> Default Apps–> click on the web browser app below “Web browser” and choose from any of the other browsers you have installed.

Happy to be of help 😉

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Yours is a fairly even-keeled reaction. I’ll quibble on some of the details, though.

And, as Google has suggested, part of the reason for requiring Chrome to be installed is that tons of other apps actually use Chrome components as part of how they work.

If the EC gets some people with Android programming experience to help them, their demand could be clarified to address this.

What the EC wants is that users have to opt into having Chrome, just as they have to opt into having Firefox Focus or other browsers. From the user’s standpoint, this means having to go into the Play Store and "install" Chrome. That is because the user perceives an app like Chrome as being an icon in the home screen launcher, and to get one of those icons, you have to get the app from the Play Store.

However, technically, that’s not really what is happening. An app that is installed on a device (pre-installed or user-installed) can have zero, one, or a thousand home screen launcher icons. There is no 1:1 relationship here from a programming standpoint. In particular, there is nothing stopping a pre-installed app from initially having no home screen launcher icons, but then start advertising one when conditions change.

So, Google could still ship Chrome, to satisfy the app integration requirements. It simply wouldn’t advertise an icon for home screen launchers (in programming-speak, android:enabled="false" on the relevant `activity-alias element in the manifest). When the user "installs" Chrome from the Play Store, Google simply enables that icon rather than installing the full app (in programming-speak, use setComponentEnabledSetting() on PackageManager).

(and I’ll be happy to discuss the technical details to whatever depth you’d like… if you turn on code formatting features in your comment box Markdown support 🙂

Google may no longer be able to offer Android for free in the EU

Android is open source. Google does not really have a choice about offering Android for free in the EU. They could say that they will need to change the terms for licensing the Play Store and other Google proprietary apps, though.

But looking over these issues, I’m hard pressed to think of how anything would have developed all that differently if Google hadn’t done these things in the first place.

IMHO, Samsung would have forked Android, along the lines of how Amazon did. Samsung had a phase where they wanted to get out from under Google’s thumb (see: Tizen), and I have little doubt that they would have taken a stab at "going it alone" without the Google proprietary apps. If they had very specific targets and price points (e.g., emerging markets and ultra-low-cost phones), it might have even worked.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Android is open source. Google does not really have a choice about offering Android for free in the EU. They could say that they will need to change the terms for licensing the Play Store and other Google proprietary apps, though.

As far as I know, the Linux kernel and the Blink rendering engine are the only elements of Android that use copyleft licenses. Google could relicense the rest of the OS tomorrow if it wanted to.

It couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle and make the already-released versions no longer open-sourced. But it could cease offering new versions of AOSP (aside, again, from the components released under the GPL/LGPL).

Mark Murphy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Google could relicense the rest of the OS tomorrow if it wanted to.

That could be difficult — I have not read through the relevant contributor license agreement recently to see whether relicensing rights are included in there.

In general, relicensing a large open source project is a serious pain in various body parts, as all copyright holders need to agree, and there are a lot of copyright holders.

Moreover, such a decision would not just affect Europe.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“IMHO, Samsung would have forked Android, along the lines of how Amazon did”

There is nothing preventing Samsung from running their own forked version of android the same way Amazon did except that it would no longer support Google’s proprietary apps

This isn’t really a matter of blocking, Google would have to bend over backwards to provide support for their apps for Samsung’s fork to help Samsung overcome this hurdle..

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There is nothing preventing Samsung from running their own forked version of android the same way Amazon did except that it would no longer support Google’s proprietary apps

But the problem is that a condition for supporting Google’s apps (including the Play Store) appears to be that you can’t sell other phones that don’t.

As in, if you sell even one phone that doesn’t ship with the Play Store, you’re not allowed to sell even one phone that does.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, I agree that part as reported doesn’t really make sense, it seems overly restrictive and hasn’t really been specifically clarified by Google and is problematic on Google’s part.. I’m not sure what anyone is supposed to gain by this restriction. Is samsung going to create their own OS with their own playstore and everything and use samsung play store for some phones and google’s for others? That would be really annoying and confusing for samsung consumers I would think, but should be samsung’s call.

I would think more the “why are you requiring this / stop doing that going forward” kinda problematic than the “you owe the EU 5 billion dollars” kinda problematic, but then I’m not the EU

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Is samsung going to create their own OS with their own playstore and everything and use samsung play store for some phones and google’s for others? That would be really annoying and confusing for samsung consumers I would think, but should be samsung’s call.

I definitely think Samsung has some concerns about Google’s control over the Android ecosystem. That’s part of why it’s built Tizen.

Tizen is, by all accounts, not very good (at least, not as a phone OS), but being good isn’t really the point — having leverage over Google is.

Without Google’s anti-fragmenting restriction, Samsung could have sold non-Android-branded, AOSP-based phones, yes. And if those took off, maybe it would have made those its dominant platform and stopped shipping phones with Google Play. Or maybe not. Maybe it would have just used those phones as a bargaining chip for favorable agreements with Google.

Another possibility is that, rather than rolling their own AOSP derivatives, Samsung and other OEMs could have sold Fire Phones. Perhaps the Fire Phone would have been more successful if there had been more than one model.

We’ll never know if any of these alternative Android-based phones could have succeeded if they’d existed. What we do know is that they never had the chance to.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Well you have to remember this still an agreement between Google and Samsung, and Samsung chose to pay this price for using Google’s software so it’s not really fair to say they never had the chance. There was certainly the chance for Samsung to negotiate differently or do things differently.. It’s not really fair to say lets look at things from Samsung’s perspective if everything was the same except this restriction wasn’t part of the agreement, since obviously Google would have negotiated something else in exchange for the use of the software they built in that case.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I mean, you could make that argument in defense of any anticompetitive behavior. Hell, I see people in the comments here routinely say "If you don’t like your ISP, just stop using the Internet."

There’s no viable phone OS that’s available for license to third-party vendors except Android. Saying "Samsung could just try not using Android" is the equivalent of saying "Samsung could just not sell phones."

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Not really.. often the injured party did not directly sign up for what is supposedly injuring them it’s more often an agreement that is leaving them out.

Well, a couple things are tough to swallow.. like all the obvious competition Google has fostered in the phone market by creating this software and allowing manufacturers to use their software in this way.. I have a really hard time believing the manufacturers would have been able to compete with Apply independently.

It’s also tough for me to ignore the parallels with other license agreements that trade in “terms” instead of in money.

The last thing that bothers me about these anti-competitive decisions is that it always makes me feel like they are changing the rules after the fact and not applying the law equally. It you don’t want to allow exclusivity agreements just ban exclusivity agreements

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

Hmmm...

Hello, Mr Masnick. 🙂

While most of what you have to say makes sense, I’m going to have to disagree with you on two points.

First, Google – as well as any other overwhelmingly dominant players in the tech field – now have a clear disincentive from engaging in such anti-competitive practises, either at present or in the future.

Second…

Here on TechDirt, when it comes to video-on-demand services, one point that’s been raised time and again is that it isn’t enough for a service to merely exist somewhere, in some form: it must be fairly accessible to constitute true competition.

In another TD article today, Mr Geigner wrote:

[…] so-called pirates are perfectly willing to pay for content if its offered to them in a convenient and reasonable way with few mental transactions needed. You know, how all of commerce works.

DLing and installing alternative browsers and search engines is par for the course for you, me and most TD commenters, but not so much for Joe and Jane Ordinary. As evidenced by basically everything, most people just stick with whatever’s already there, absent a compelling reason to change things.

Researching for whichever browser might be an improvement for our needs, hunting through the Play Store for it and identifying and installing the genuine version (rather than a dubious personal-data-hoovering piratey clone) is trivial enough for us, but how’re the Ordinarys supposed to navigate in what – for them – is largely terra incognita?

Surely, the competition isn’t real if most people can’t easily and reliably find and make use of the genuine article. 😛

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Hmmm...

Joe and Jane Ordinary.

Google Chrome got installed on my Mom’s Ipad. I said how’d that get there? She said Oh I heard about it and wanted to try it. I said GTFO… you? LOL. She said she was having issues with the website used for my dad’s work compliance training. So she wanted to try something else. I said GTFO… you? Did that? Without calling me? Did it work? She said yes. I thought, could it finally be my days of supporting the worst end user on the planet (Love you Mom.)are finally over?

The next day she called me… her printer stopped working.

I don’t think people are as hesitant try new things on mobile devices because of the trust level given to the platforms.

“Play Store for it and identifying and installing the genuine version (rather than a dubious personal-data-hoovering piratey clone)”

Oh, you use an iPhone… got it. 😉

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hmmm...

Hello, I.T. Guy. 🙂

No disrespect intended, but your mum isn’t really evidence of anything except your mum. From the EC press release linked at the top of the article:

• on Android devices (with Google Search and Chrome pre-installed) more than 95% of all search queries were made via Google Search; and

• on Windows Mobile devices (Google Search and Chrome are not pre-installed) less than 25% of all search queries were made via Google Search. More than 75% of search queries happened on Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which is pre-installed on Windows Mobile devices.

That’s the kind of evidence the verdict is based on. Most people do not behave like your mum.

Oh, you use an iPhone… got it. 😉

Ha ha ha! No. Apple’s walled garden can suck my juicy plums. I’ve had three Android smartphones in my life. The first one died of a wall at high speed. The second died of hammers. The third died of a large barbecue.

I don’t get on well with smartphones. Part of the reason is the mild but ever-present pain in the arse involved in finding genuine versions of things on that fucking stupid Play Store. 😛

Rapnel (profile) says:

Fuck Google Android.

With a modicum of effort most crap can be ripped and replaced but you need the power over your own device. With a lot of effort you can rip Google apps all the way out, again, from your own device. Without super user controls you get mediocre garbage, at best.

“Masking” an app as your default is not integrated with the handset for most of the default apps.

While you can definitely tweak your way around to happiness on your handset owning your handset, and all the powers therein, is a different matter altogether.

Fuck Google Android, Play, Search, Chrome and whatever fuckall else they’re hard-lined in to.

Android and IOS are not really very good platforms, really. We have flagships that can push a grand to get onto and, oh boy, Android.

Owning and using both I could give two shits what Google has to pay because it’s pretty clear to me that it’s not a healthy market. These phones actually pretty much suck, all around, but not for their hardware or build quality but because we’ve allowed the tables to be flipped on compute ownership.

Anonymous Coward says:

"And, as Google has suggested, part of the reason for requiring Chrome to be installed is that tons of other apps actually use Chrome components as part of how they work. So not installing Chrome with the Play Store would actually lead to a lot of apps not working properly."

Let’s rephrase:
And, as Microsoft has suggested, part of the reason for requiring Internet Explorer be installed is that tons of other apps actually use IE components as part of how they would work. So not installing IE with Windows would actually lead to a lot of apps not working properly.

Microsoft decoupled IE from Windows and made it optional. Google could do the same with Chrome/Android, but chooses not to. My tablet runs Android without Chrome and everything works just fine. Clearly the Chrome requirement is either a lie or Chrome was bolted in later as a dependency.

Regardless, the problem is not Android, per se. Google gave away Android for free, but also included requirements to include Google products in the offering. Hardware manufacturers don’t care about the software side – they just want to sell phones. That’s why the free Android became the default instead of the paid Symbian, Windows Phone, Blackberry, et al. Alone, not much of a problem.

But now that Android is the dominant phone OS, there are extra responsibilities. The required inclusion of Google search, Google Play and Chrome? Yes, that is now a problem and arguably is now anti-competitive. Something will have to give. Either Android will be spun off as a separate company and sold, or the Google Play/Chrome requirements will have to be dropped. I’m betting it will be the former.

Peter (profile) says:

Trade wars

Google’s first commandment (though shalt not distribute other Androids next to mine) will likely cause problems for asian device manufacturers if the trade wars expand – Android being the product of an American company, the US Government can stop Chinese manufacturers from using it. This may be the EU taking sides against the US.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

In particular, Apple:

has required manufacturers to pre-install the Apple search app and browser app (Safari), as a condition for licensing Apple’s app store (the AppStore);
made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Apple Search app on their devices; and
has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Apple apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of iOS that were not approved by Apple (so-called “iOS forks”).

o_o

WhatsGoodforTheGoose says:

GoogleDidAMicrosoft

Almost identical to the Microsoft browser issue.

Microsoft Windows 10 came with Microsoft’s browser.
They forced Microsoft to give browser choice on installation allowing other browsers space in the Win10 install.

Google comes with their browser and store/search.
EU is forcing Google to put others in the Android space.

In reality – Operating systems are no longer controlled by companies, governments now control what assets come on the install…

Google lost sight of their previous lobbying efforts to bring antitrust against Microsoft and did what Microsoft did.

Karma’s a bitch.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: GoogleDidAMicrosoft

That article talks of windows 7.. the obligation expired in 2014 it doesn’t look like it was ever part of windows 10

They also appear to have never been required included it in the install or provide any space, they just had a webpage of links come up in Internet Explorer that let you install other browsers

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 GoogleDidAMicrosoft

That article talks of windows 7.. the obligation expired in 2014 it doesn’t look like it was ever part of windows 10

Yeah, as I noted a couple of posts down, the poster who mentioned the browser ballot was off by about 5 years.

I didn’t realize the obligation had expired and wasn’t included in Windows 10, but that makes sense given that MS no longer has a majority share in the browser market.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: GoogleDidAMicrosoft

Microsoft Windows 10 came with Microsoft’s browser.

They forced Microsoft to give browser choice on installation allowing other browsers space in the Win10 install.

You’re off by more than 5 years. The ballot box was instituted in 2009, a few months after the release of Windows 7. Windows 10 wasn’t released until 2015.

crade (profile) says:

I think this blog post by Sundar Pichai decently explains why they have the rules around other versions of Android.

https://www.blog.google/around-the-globe/google-europe/android-has-created-more-choice-not-less/

Basically they are trying to ensure that we have app compatibility across different manufacturers in order to take away the advantage Apple has over them by having such a large market share complete control over their ecosystem and doesn’t have to struggle with app compatibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

Difference from Firefox

As we pointed out at the beginning of the investigation, how is that different than when Google paid Mozilla to be the default search engine in Firefox? Then Microsoft outbid Google and Bing became the default.

FWIW, the obvious differences are that:

  • the Android deal was exclusive; Firefox was free to ship, and did ship, with other search providers.
  • the Google search engine and Android are run by the same company; Firefox and Google were separate. (Could Bing "outbid" Google Search to become the exclusive search provider on Android phones? What stops Google from "paying" a billion dollars to Google for that?)
John Smith says:

Search engines don’t have to exist.

We could have portals run by experts in each field, and even aggregate portals that don’t have the downsides of infringement and defamation. This would also spread the wealth around, and allow innovation.

There were some very good link-exchange programs back in the 1990s that wer basically put out of business by search engines.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: We need an EU phone OS.

I should point out it was the EU that legislated the creation of GSM in the first place. This was back in the early days of mobile. The US, by contrast, decided to “let the market decide”, and ended up with a mishmash of incompatible carrier networks.

This is why, everywhere else in the world but the US, you get to buy a phone first, then decide which network you want to connect it to. Switching networks is as easy as changing a SIM. But in the US, everybody buys their phone from their carrier. So you have to have different versions of phones for connecting to different carriers. And because it is so hard for customers to switch carriers, this limits competition in the US compared to the rest of the world.

Claudia Evans says:

I’m kind of ambivalent about this ruling. On one hand, having preset apps that you can’t delete or disable does give Google an undue advantage and effectively hinders fair competition. On the other hand, it’s laughably easy to just download a similar app through the Play Store or on other sites such as http://www.alternatives.co if you are not happy with what is pre-installed in your phone.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...