Google Facing Yet Another Antitrust Lawsuit Over Its App Store Practices, Even Though Android Is Quite Permissive

from the not-sure-I-get-this-one dept

Another day, another antitrust lawsuit against Google. This one, filed by 36 states and Washington DC, says that the company's practices regarding its Android app store violate antitrust law. This is now the fourth antitrust lawsuit filed by various governments in the US against Google. There's the DOJ lawsuit, one from nine state AGs, another from 10 state AGs, and now this new one. I get that everyone wants to hate on the big tech companies these days, and they also want to throw a bunch of things at the wall, but would it really have been that difficult to go through all of this in one single lawsuit?

As with the previous lawsuits, this one leaves me scratching my head. I kept expecting there to be some bombshell or some smoking gun. But, once again, this lawsuit seems to take things that were done for perfectly reasonable reasons and attack them as anti-competitive.

The oddest thing, of course, is that of any "app store" out there, Android is the most permissive around. Apple's iOS is much more restrictive. You can't get apps onto an iPhone without first getting them approved by Apple. Ditto for other proprietary platforms like video game consoles. Google, on the other hand, allows users to sideload apps and also to install alternative app stores entirely. For example, Amazon has long had its own Android app store (and, notably, in the new version of Windows, users will be able to install Android apps on their desktop machines via Amazon's app store). That's a lot more open than most similarly situated platforms.

The complaint makes a big deal about how Google "discourages" people from sideloading apps or using alternative app stores:

Although Google leaves open the technical possibility for Android consumers to acquire some apps without using the Play Store, this can only be accomplished through a competing app store installed on the device (either through preloading by an OEM or through the user sideloading the store), or through sideloading of individual apps. Google takes various steps to discourage OEMs from directly competing or sponsoring any app store competition. Google makes the sideloading process unnecessarily cumbersome and impractical by adding superfluous, misleading, and discouraging security warnings and by deterring users by requiring them to grant permission multiple times for a single app installation (discussed in more detail in Sections I.C. and I.D. below). The effect of Google’s conduct is to practically eliminate competition in Android app distribution.

But, uh, this kinda leaves out some of the details here -- which is that earlier, when Google was much more permissive about sideloading apps, there were lots of complaints about the dangers of sideloading and third party app stores. Indeed, some device makers used to refer to Android allowing sideloading as creating a "chaotic cesspool" of security problems and piracy.

In response, Google did get more serious about making sure users really understood the risks and really wanted to install 3rd party apps. But, again, it still does allow this -- much more readily than others. And yes, it's true that this probably makes it more difficult for third party app stores to survive, but if Google didn't do this it would also be slammed left, right, and center by everyone for not "policing" its phones and allowing security risks and piracy to run rampant. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

I don't disagree that it would be nice if Google were more open to 3rd party app stores, and didn't necessarily make you jump through so many hoops, but is that seriously an antitrust violation? Even the market definition (the key to any antitrust case) is... weird. Obviously, how you define the market will show whether or not there's a monopoly -- and if you define the market as "the products that only this company makes" then of course that's a monopoly. But that's not really relevant for a question of whether or not there is anti-competitive behavior. But here, these states have come up with a market definition that is basically just Android. They're not even doing the "mobile operating system" market. Instead, they claim that the relevant market is specifically "the licensable mobile OS market" -- meaning that Apple iOS (which is not licensable from Apple) is excluded.

The licensable mobile OS market also excludes OSs that are unsuitable for mobile devices, such as OSs for simple cell phones, “flip phones,” or feature phones, or for other electronic devices (such as laptop computers, desktop computers, and gaming consoles, e.g., Nintendo DS, Xbox, PlayStation) that are not mobile devices.

If I'm reading this right, they're actually suggesting that if Google had decided not to license its OS, and not to let competing device manufacturers build their own competing phones, then they would have less of an antitrust case against Google. And that seems... weird? And kind of nonsensical.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but it seems like Apple's control of iOS is a lot more strict, ditto for Nintendo, Microsoft with Xbox, and Sony with the PlayStation. Google's decision to license its OS and enable much wider competition, as well as allowing some sideloading and 3rd party app stores, seems a hell of a lot more competitive than all those other services -- and yet that's all being used against Google, but not the others?

It also seems like this lawsuit may run into the same problem that resulted in various states' lawsuits against Facebook to get tossed: why now? Android has acted this way for years, and why are these state AGs suddenly deciding it's a problem?

I'm all for having more competition at every level of the stack, but I'm confused as to how this is a legitimate antitrust claim.

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Filed Under: 3rd party app stores, android, antitrust, app store, competition, licensable mobile operating system, market definition, mobile operating systems, play store, sideloading
Companies: google


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 9:36am

    How many of those AGs are republican, and have ambitions to become a state governor or senator??

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

    • identicon
      MightyMetricBatman, 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:14am

      Re:

      It is much more a mix of both Democratic and Republican offices. Even California signed on to this one, which I was surprised because most of the previous suits they had not gone along with.

      However, one is a fool if you think only a minority of attorney generals aspire to a higher office.

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

    • identicon
      MightyMetricBatman, 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:14am

      Re:

      It is much more a mix of both Democratic and Republican offices. Even California signed on to this one, which I was surprised because most of the previous suits they had not gone along with.

      However, one is a fool if you think only a minority of attorney generals aspire to a higher office.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 9:44am

    'Look at us, look at us Doing Something!'

    I'm all for having more competition at every level of the stack, but I'm confused as to how this is a legitimate antitrust claim.

    Because it's not as it seems to be yet another 'Look at us sticking to to the big scary tech company' PR stunt by all involved, which also explains why it's being filed separately from previous efforts as it's better for boasting if you have multiple legal actions to give the impression that you're really going after a company and if one stunt gets tossed it doesn't gut your PR efforts all in one swoop.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 10:12am

    not saying it isn't deserved but why is Google always the centre of attention and Apple get's away scott free again? it's far more restrictive on everything and takes a large portion of the cost of buying an app which is pretty disgraceful, in my opinion. maybe Apple is paying more to the politicians and law services so it get's away with much more? cant think of any other reasons.

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 10:57am

      Re:

      Google is big. Really big. And its not about android, its about google.

      Apple isn't in the dominant market position. Its more popular with app developers because, for the most part, you make an app for one version of iOS and its good for all phones that support that OS. Not true with android. So you have a lot more android phones. That puts Google in the dominant market position.

      And most Google antitrust isn't about phones. Its about Search, Ads, Free office software, ect. Google's exposure is much higher, much more public. It keeps getting lumped into the moderation and censorship debates because of youtube, so politicians on both sides lump google in as a company that needs to be punished.

      Apple is in the position it always finds itself in, in the shadow of a larger, bigger target. Its not that Apple is buying favor, its that google is earning disfavor due to its diverse portfolio ruffling the wrong feathers, and at the same time its diverse portfolio means it has multiple points of exposure making it more politically favorable to attack than Apple.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:16pm

      Re:

      "why is Google always the centre of attention"

      They're a giant corporation that operates in a wide range of industries, and some less educated politicians seem to think they are the internet.

      "Apple get's away scott free again?"

      Apple are facing numerous lawsuits on the subject of app store practices, so I'm not sure what you mean here.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 10:22am

    Umm,

    And Windows OS?
    Apple OS?
    IOS?

    I think they should be pounding on Apple more then Android.
    Would be interesting to watch Microsoft look back on history and find someone chasing them?

    What in hell are these groups going to make out of this?
    Find a Android phone that hasnt been Modded by the Phone maker and is CLEAN. Except for the Pixel, Google hasnt made to many of their OWN phones.

    Its all a loss to these groups Who is paying for this? Everyone of these Android phones has been Adapted to the other Companies OS, changes. A bunch of Droids just trying to get money.
    Would be interesting to sue back to them as harassment.

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:01am

      Re: Umm,

      So, your conflation of Desktop and Phone OS indicates you don't understand the arguments being made.

      That said I will highlight again that Android has the larger market share. Way more phones on android. Its a dumb anti-trust action, But it is targeting the largest player in the market.

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

      • icon
        Mark Murphy (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 1:34pm

        Re: Re: Umm,

        Android has the larger market share. Way more phones on android

        On a global basis, yes. In the US, though, it's close to a 50-50 split between Android and iOS.

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

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 4:55pm

        Re: Re: Umm,

        And who made the choice to put it ON the phone?
        NOT the customer.

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

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 12 Jul 2021 @ 8:13am

        Re: Re: Umm,

        "Way more phones on android. Its a dumb anti-trust action, But it is targeting the largest player in the market."

        Not quite a fair comparison; Google creates and builds Android but aside from the Android One series of phones Google isn't even in business with smartphone OEM's over the OS. That's sort of the idea behind Open Source.

        So they aren't targeting the largest player. They are targeting a player large in a few segments of an industry by pointing at the "Help Yourself" freebie bin and screaming bloody murder because that free stuff was popular.

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

  • identicon
    Glen, 8 Jul 2021 @ 10:38am

    I'd really love to had a public spectacle of asking my state's (UT) AG about wasting money performative lawsuits.

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

  • identicon
    Lt. Nitpicker, 8 Jul 2021 @ 10:48am

    Alternate take on this suit

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 10 Jul 2021 @ 10:53am

      Re: Alternate take on this suit

      "“to buy off Samsung to limit competition from the Samsung Galaxy app store.”".

      Ever been to Any app store?
      Do you think Google has much control Over THeir App store. They do. but trying to find that App that you want is a Tireless job.
      If I was google, I would have a section for my Own, Best (bought from the app creators). And Just recommend those. they could, but they dont.
      Would Love to have the better of most apps. Keep digging, or program it yourself.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:14am

    Another downplay / deflection by admitted GOOGLE shill.

    Masnick actually wrote that he's a shill for GOOGLE -- was an attempt at sarcasm, but nonetheless an admission.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120824/12563220150/apparently-im-google-shill-i-didnt- even-know-it.shtml

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:14am

      Re: Another downplay / deflection by admitted GOOGLE shill.

      And there's this even more blatant admission which is current:

      https://copia.is/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/sponsors.png

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:15am

      Re: Another downplay / deflection by admitted GOOGLE shill.

      Maz never mentions his relations with GOOGLE as here when it's relevant for anyone to evaluate his opinion, which is another admission in itself.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:17am

      Re: Another downplay / deflection by admitted GOOGLE shill.

      All went right in first click! Guess Maz is desperate for comments. -- Last week, he practically begged for opposition so his fanboys can get their hate out, but I snooted his taunt, didn't bother!

      You have no one left except clique of hateful fanboys whose only real skill is in running people off, Maz.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 1:42pm

        Re: Re: Another downplay / deflection by admitted GOOGLE shill.

        So you're a hateful fanboy?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 3:46pm

        Re: Re: Another loser snooted by the spam filter

        "You have no one left except clique of hateful fanboys whose only real skill is in running people off, Maz."

        You're here...

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 8:09pm

          Re: Re: Re: Another loser snooted by the spam filter

          Maybe they imagine they are part of a huge, huge like-minded population which just mysteriously doesn't appear, hence the conspiracy theories.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:19am

    Google more "permissive" than Apple is like Singapore

    more "permissive" than China! Still not acceptable.

    GOOGLE doesn't actually refute the charges, can't, just claims "not so bad as..."

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 8 Jul 2021 @ 3:07pm

      Re: Google more "permissive" than Apple is like Singapore

      Here's a refutation of the charges:

      How is Google's play store a monopoly when you can sideload apps easily?

      You're a meritless troll as always, Blue-Balzac...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 11:57am

    They will likely argue google has most of the market in search, mobile ads,apps, no 1 browser,
    meanwhile i can download apps free on my phone,
    or sideload apps,
    apple has much tighter control on apps,
    apple apps cannot show a link to websites where they can pay or buy subscriptions.
    it seems politicans have decided to go after google and facebook,
    and ignore microsoft .
    maybe they ,ll force google to promote alternative app stores on android

    how much money is wasted on lawsuits that go nowhere

    there were other mobile os,s ,
    windows, blackberry but they simply could not off easy to use apps
    and keep up with android os as it improved and had a great user interface.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 4:36pm

    • Google takes various steps to discourage OEMs from directly competing or sponsoring any app store competition.*

    What? All sorts of OEM and the mobile telcos have app stores. What the hell are they even talking about? How, in fact, does Google prevent or obstruct any of this?

    What?

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 6:56am

      Re:

      There is a difference between "competitors dont exist" and "Competition is discouraged". You don't deserve your insightful vote. You've completely misread what is happening and argued against a strawman.

      How they obstruct is documented in the suit. Getting access to a variety of google services and apps requires you support the Google Play Store. Most users will stick with the google play store if it is availible, discouraging investing in building a storefront, which Epic will tell you is not as simple as you would think. They offered revenue shares to OEMs if they discontinued their store or white labeled the google play store. If an app is offered on a competing marketplace, it cant advertise on any google platform. The lawsuit accuses them of lots of market manipulation Apple can't do. That a user has a choice of app store is like saying a internet user has a choice of ISP in america. Even when its true, can the alternative truly be considered an alternative?

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

      • icon
        James Burkhardt (profile), 9 Jul 2021 @ 7:04am

        Re: Re:

        Id want to add because I kinda lost the connecting thread, as I noted, the claims of the lawsuit I have read suggest that some of the OEM/teleco stores may actually just be the google play store on the backend. So some of the competition is fake, if the lawsuit's claims are accurate. When AC says"All sorts of OEM and the mobile telcos have app stores", hes missing the key arguement that those stores aren't neccisarily competing with Google Play Store, they are the Google Play Store and are not genuine competition.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 10 Jul 2021 @ 2:13pm

      Re:

      really wonder what store they got THEIR phone from and not have ATT, Vorizen, Samsung, and a list as long as your ARM Apps on it.

      Friend of mine has a samsung phone, Vorizen service and Android. ALL of them want control of the phone, and it fills up EVERYTHING in ram.
      Real pain to figure which one you want, IF you want abit of space left.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2021 @ 7:23pm

    Well at least it isn't Tim Sweeny filing another suit about how only having one option for apps is wrong while he goes into debt ensuring we can only buy certain things on his app store.

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


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