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.


Reader Comments

The First Word

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.

—Mark Murphy

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 3:31pm

    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.

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2018 @ 7:39pm

      Re:

      Isn't Googlee spying on the whole world selling info to highest bidders. I didn't know us companies could get away with that.

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    • identicon
      JarHead, 18 Jul 2018 @ 8:14pm

      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?

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 2:07am

        Re: Re:

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

        Does any politicians see the general public in any other way. Even some are our more more religiously political trolls, Mr. Sovcit for one, see everybody else like that.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:25am

        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.

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      • identicon
        Thad, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:34am

        Re: Re:

        While I think there's a good argument to be made that the EC's order isn't going to do much to spur market competition, I also don't think it's accurate or helpful to describe users who stick with the defaults on their phones as "tech-illiterate drones" or "poor dumbfucks".

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        • icon
          The Wanderer (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 7:56am

          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".

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  • icon
    Boojum (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 4:05pm

    I wonder if Amazon will be next? My Amazon Kindle Fire runs Android but will not let me install the browser of my choice. All browsers except silk have been blocked.

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  • icon
    Boojum (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 4:16pm

    The current ruling from the EU isn't about android either, it's about search engines and browsers. My Kindle Fire also limits my search engine and browser choice to just one, which is why I am wondering if they will be next. They won't let me install a bunch of stuff.

    Boojum

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:32am

      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?

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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 4:18pm

    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.

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    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 8:02am

      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.)

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  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 4:42pm

    because if those non-Google Android versions are poorly done, it could confuse people and reflect poorly on Google...

    Like when OEM-flavored Android delayedly/never keeps up with Android's security updates.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2018 @ 4:44pm

    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.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:45am

      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.

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  • icon
    ECA (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 4:55pm

    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..

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2018 @ 5:20pm

      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.

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    • identicon
      Isma'il, 19 Jul 2018 @ 9:57am

      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 ;)

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:39am

      Re: read on another site..

      You can't figure out how to download a browser or make it the default? It's in the options/settings menu for every browser: "Check if $browser is not the default browser"

      ECA, you are just clueless.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:46am

        Re: Re: read on another site..

        Which is why these Children need their Mommy and Daddy (Big Government) to tell others what to do so that their dumb and Lazy children can continue on.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2018 @ 5:31pm

    Users should choose to use Tor Browser, as well as use their favorite search engine while having privacy and anonymity in mind.

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  • icon
    Mark Murphy (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 5:36pm

    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.

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    • identicon
      Thad, 18 Jul 2018 @ 5:59pm

      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).

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      • icon
        Mark Murphy (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 3:59am

        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.

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    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 12:14am

      Re:

      These are all good points.... Thanks!

      Also, a good point on Samsung... though I actually wonder if Samsung forking Android would have helped or harmed Samsung. I know for some people that might make them less inclined to buy Samsung, especially having some experience with the crap bloatware they put on phones...

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      • icon
        Mark Murphy (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 4:06am

        Re: Re:

        though I actually wonder if Samsung forking Android would have helped or harmed Samsung

        Yeah, that's a coin flip IMHO. But I feel fairly confident that they would have tried.

        Some of the Chinese device manufacturers forked Android. Oppo, for example, created ColorOS.

        The challenge for any fork is getting developers to distribute their apps through the fork's "app store". Western app developers may tend to drag their feet here, as they tend to think only about the Play Store. Chinese app developers are used to dealing with dozens upon dozens of app stores in their home market, so for them, Oppo's app store is just another one on the list that they need to use.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:55am

      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..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Thad, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:03am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          crade (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:51am

          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

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Thad, 19 Jul 2018 @ 1:17pm

            Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              crade (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 6:51am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Thad, 20 Jul 2018 @ 5:24pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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."

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  crade (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 10:13pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Darkness Of Course (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 4:08pm

      Re: Interesting but mostly shit talk.

      Google won't charge for the kernel. They can charge for access to Google branded apps, including Google Play.

      They can also charge for the right to put 'Android' on the device. Which they have been doing by insisting on a minimum set of features which include Chrome and Google's store.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 18 Jul 2018 @ 5:47pm

    Mars needs women,

    EU needs money (and they'll steal from wherever they can--if it's the US, that's just a bonus).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DocGerbil100 (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 6:17pm

    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. :P

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 19 Jul 2018 @ 8:29am

      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. ;)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        DocGerbil100 (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 4:36pm

        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. :P

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Rapnel (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 6:19pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2018 @ 7:27pm

    Five billion dollars ain't hardly enough. That's like taking $20 bucks out of my wallet. Someone should dismantle that monster.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2018 @ 7:34pm

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      lucidrenegade (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 9:21am

      Re:

      IE was never decoupled from Windows. If you "remove" IE, all it does is remove the visible traces. It's still there, since so much of the OS relies on it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 18 Jul 2018 @ 10:39pm

    Shouldn’t Come As A Big Surprise

    Google’s behaviour has been known for some time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 10:54pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 18 Jul 2018 @ 11:44pm

      Re: the US Government can stop Chinese manufacturers from using

      From using the proprietary parts, yes. But they’re going to have an interesting time trying to restrict access to Open Source.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ArkieGuy (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 7:54am

      Re: Trade wars

      Google doesn't say "thou shalt not distribute other androids next to mine", it says "if you distribute an 'other' android, we won't license the PLAY STORE to you, but you are welcome to make your own". This is what Amazon did and what China has already done as few Chinese phones are Play Store compatible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 11:38pm

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:13am

    Brick

    Google should just brick every Android device in the EU and say that they are pulling out of the region.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    WhatsGoodforTheGoose, 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:23am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:59am

      Re: GoogleDidAMicrosoft

      link? There is no browser choice in win10 install last time I ran it. Are you thinking of the ancient antitrust against microsoft by netscape?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Thad, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:05am

        Re: Re: GoogleDidAMicrosoft

        link?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Corp_v_Commission

        There is no browser choice in win10 install last time I ran it.

        Are you in the EU?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          crade (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 11:03am

          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

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Thad, 19 Jul 2018 @ 1:20pm

            Re: 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

            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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 7:13am

      Re: GoogleDidAMicrosoft

      Seems like you're getting a few things confused here. Very confused in some parts.

      But, hey, you can cheerlead corporation 1 instead of corporation 2 for once so all's good, right?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 19 Jul 2018 @ 10:09am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 6:32am

    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-l ess/

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    brad (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 7:12am

    It's a tariff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    gene_cavanaugh (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 7:31am

    EU and Google

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, 19 Jul 2018 @ 7:34am

    EU and Google

    So, from the comments and article:
    Speaking as a frog, so the water is a little warmer, and maybe getting warmer - no worries. Let's just notice it might get cooler, or they might take me out of the water. Not going to get excited yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 7:37am

    Took you a while to post your expected Google defense article, Mike. Was Google's PR team bogged down and unable to quickly approve your post?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2018 @ 9:31am

    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?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Smith, 19 Jul 2018 @ 1:37pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 20 Jul 2018 @ 1:27am

      Re:

      Yes, I remember trying to find things online during the early 90s. There's a very good reason why Google grew as quickly as it did when it appeared.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Smith, 19 Jul 2018 @ 1:40pm

    All heck will break loose when Google or some other big internet company puts the NFL out of business by paying the players double what they are making now.

    The whole world is going to turn into Walmart at this point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Darkness Of Course (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 4:10pm

    We need an EU phone OS.

    Today there are two phone markets, iPhone and Android. Nobody else has survived.

    EU commission can start their version; More BS from EU.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 19 Jul 2018 @ 8:50pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Claudia Evans, 20 Jul 2018 @ 12:45pm

    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 www.alternatives.co if you are not happy with what is pre-installed in your phone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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