Google Competitors File Ridiculous EU Complaint Arguing That 'Free' Android Is Anti-Competitive

from the get-over-yourselves dept

FairSearch, the increasingly silly and shrill looking "coalition" of tech companies which have nothing in common other than a visceral hatred for Google (it's led by Microsoft) has so far failed miserably in convincing regulators that Google was an antitrust problem. Now it's filed a new attack on Google in the EU, arguing that its Android mobile strategy is anti-competitive because it gives Android away for free.
“Google is using its Android mobile operating system as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to deceive partners, monopolize the mobile marketplace, and control consumer data,” said Thomas Vinje, Brussels-based counsel to the FairSearch coalition. “We are asking the Commission to move quickly and decisively to protect competition and innovation in this critical market. Failure to act will only embolden Google to repeat its desktop abuses of dominance as consumers increasingly turn to a mobile platform dominated by Google’s Android operating system.”

[....] Google achieved its dominance in the smartphone operating system market by giving Android to device-makers for ‘free.’
What's especially ridiculous here is that Microsoft, who is the major source behind FairSearch, dealt with this exact issue itself back during its antitrust fights, when people ridiculously accused it of the same thing for daring to give out Internet Explorer for "free." The idea that giving away some software for free is somehow anti-competitive is just laughable. That this is now being pushed by a bunch of companies who themselves use the exact same benefits of giving away free software to promote other parts of their business is just the height of cynical exploitation of the political process to try to hamstring a competitor in red tape, rather than competing in the marketplace.

Law Professor James Grimmelman, who is hardly a big Google supporter (he was among those who fought the hardest against the Google Books settlement) properly called this new filing by FairSearch "disgusting." It's a blatantly cynical attempt by Microsoft, Nokia, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Oracle to use a totally bogus legal complaint to just waste a competitor's time. All of those companies rely on free software in some form or another. No one in their right mind argues that offering free software is somehow anti-competitive. It seems that FairSearch has now reached hysterical desperation as it attempts to justify itself.


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    Christopher Best (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 8:26am

    You know, they could take free Android, change it to use all their services instead of Google's, and not give Google anything, if the "Free Operating System" is what's giving Google some sort of unfair advantage.

    Of course, the problem is others have ALREADY TRIED THAT and the results have been less than spectacular.

    Maybe it's just that Google's offerings are a more compelling?

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:07am

      Re:

      They don't even have to do it -- the consumer can. I use an Android phone, but I don't use Google's services on it.

       

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      Tom (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:43am

      Re:

      Personally, I see nothing wrong with running Microsoft Word on an Apple computer while using GMail to communicate with my friends. I've always seen the Google/Apple/MS triad as complementary: Apple sells hardware. MS sells software. Google sells web advertising.

      The world made sense when this separation existed, but as Microsoft is pushing in to the content space with Bing, and as Google pushes in to the OS space with Chrome OS and Android, I can see how this would create a natural conflict.

      There seems to be this natural inclination for businesses to always need to grow, when perhaps the smart thing to do is stop trying to grow in to other business's markets and start looking for ways to go in to "maintenance mode" and simply serve your core market.

       

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    silverscarcat (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 9:04am

    Of course it's anti-competitive!

    I mean, it's free, you can't compete with free, that's why Coca-Cola's main source of income is water and not soda, you can't get water from the tap for free... Um...

    Well, I mean, radio is surely the reason music is dying off, I mean, giving away all their music for free and getting people to like the songs and buy the albums and... Um...

    Well, there's always software that's getting pirated! Surely no one can compete with free software! Why, I'm sure that Bill Gates, one of the earliest people who spoke out against this is just furious that he could never stop it from his giant mansion and... Um...

    ...

    You know, I'm beginning to think that you can compete with free somehow.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:46am

      Re: Of course it's anti-competitive!

      Dude, don't you know Coca-Cola contains high amounts of dihydrogen monoxide?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 11:50am

        Re: Re: Of course it's anti-competitive!

        Forget the dihydrogen monoxide scare, that's barely present in the atmosphere.

        You should be more worried about the new dioxygen scare! You're constantly surrounded with the stuff, and it's been linked to every fire that's ever killed someone. It's responsible for the weakening of what should be very solid metal and if reacted with hydrogen creates dihydrogen monoxide!

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 8:52pm

          Re: Re: Re: Of course it's anti-competitive!

          Also, when moving very quickly it can facilitate the knocking over of trees and destruction of buildings. Nitrogen gas should also be banned for similar reasons.

           

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            Niall (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 5:40am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Of course it's anti-competitive!

            We need a new name for a dioxygen/nitrogen mix - maybe dioxygenated nitrogen? Dioxygenated dinitrogen?

             

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              nasch (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 8:08am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Of course it's anti-competitive!

              We need a new name for a dioxygen/nitrogen mix - maybe dioxygenated nitrogen? Dioxygenated dinitrogen?

              Well, you would have to include hydrocarbon gas, argon, and trace gases if you want to be accurate.

               

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                Niall (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 1:18am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Of course it's anti-competitive!

                Relatively they are only a tiny proportion, so I'd probably not even bother with argon unless I wanted to tell people that they were breathing in a smog of dioxygenated nitrogen, argon-infused carbon anhydride and dihydrogen monoxide. For short and snappy, dioxygenated nitrogen works, although I could go for 'dioxygenated mephitic azote'

                 

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    Zakida Paul (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 9:32am

    It is a bit rich considering MS has already been pulled up for their own anti competitive activities, but if Google really are at the same kind of thing (what big company isn't?) then it is right and fair that they also get pulled up.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 9:33am

    I'd quietly leave that coalition. This filling sounds like an "we are incompetent and can't compete without the Govt helping hand" admission.

    Microsoft should sue Linus, he's gave the world an operational system for (GASP!) free. FireFox is distributed for (THE HORROR!) free.

    Next they'll say that free is to business what the Boston strangler was to women home alone. Hmmmm.

     

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    John Doe, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 9:50am

    What about harming the consumer?

    I thought monopolies were measured by their harm to the consumer; where has it been shown that Google has harmed the consumer? Getting something free sure hasn't hurt me. Besides that, Google pushes, unsuccessfully, for a base Android to be installed on mobile phones and tablets. This allows the consumer to run whatever software they want from email client, maps, navigation, etc. It just so happens that much of what Google offers is best in class for apps as well. But again, those are free. Well, if you count giving up large quantities of data about yourself "free". But every app gathers that data.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 9:56am

    perhaps if those that are being the aggressors here were to offer their products and services for free, instead of charging a fortune for them (then moaning when free does so much better), people would use those services more? i am no Google fan-boy, but if what they give for free is as good and sometimes better than paid for items, why would i buy elsewhere? Google is being competitive, something these other companies and a whole lot more (the entertainment industries immediately spring to mind) need to try to mimic! monopolies are fine but sooner or later, they fall over. companies fighting Veho are finding that out and are issuing ridiculous threats (or promises?) if laws are not changed/made so as to allow them to keep their monopolies, all at the expense of customers!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:05am

    The real problem is that Google gives away Android for Less Than Free, not just free.

    Google encourages manufacturers to put Android on their phones by giving them a share of ad revenu if they sell Android phones.

    It's not a problem of Android being open source and therefore free. And it's not the same as giving IE away for free. This is closer to what Microsoft does when they give a licensing discount to PC makers for including Windows on their devices.

    I'm an avid Android user, who has owned quite a few Android devices but I still see why some would think it's anti-competitive.

     

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      Mark Murphy (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:07am

      Re:

      Google encourages manufacturers to put Android on their phones by giving them a share of ad revenu if they sell Android phones.

      Citation, please.

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:11am

      Re:

      Google encourages manufacturers to put Android on their phones by giving them a share of ad revenu if they sell Android phones


      Perhaps, but not really. They can't make this argument because doing this sort of thing is common practice. They would be hoist by their own petard.

      Also, that it's common practice means that Google doesn't get an advantage from it that the others don't get. So it's not actually anti-competitive in the first place.

       

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    ottermaton (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:10am

    Let's clear something up

    The article states

    "...Microsoft... dealt with this exact issue itself back during its antitrust fights, when people ridiculously accused it of the same thing for daring to give out Internet Explorer for 'free.'"


    That is very much an oversimplification of what actually happened. Sure, they gave away IE for free, but they also:

    - claimed it was an integral part of the OS (it wasn't)
    - made IE uninstallable (for anyone but a very determined power user)
    - required PC manufactures to not install any other browser

    Those are the things that really got them in hot water, and justifiably so as it was clearly anti-competitive (anyone remember Netscape?)

    In fact, the above reasons are what made ditch Windows entirely and switch to Linux.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:13am

      Re: Let's clear something up

      Yes, this.

      Also, Microsoft was requiring PC manufacturers to pay for a Windows license for all machines they shipped, whether Windows was installed on them or not.

      The "IE is free" component of Microsoft's antitrust issue was one of the most insignificant parts of the whole deal, and nobody really took it all that seriously. Microsoft lost because of their actual abuses.

       

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        Tom (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:33am

        Re: Re: Let's clear something up

        Yes, Microsoft was doing that for a while - forcing manufacturers to sell Windows, even when the end user didn't want a new copy.

        (I got nailed by that when I bought a PC back in 1998. I had to take the OS, even though I had already bought a retail copy of Windows, and I was going to put Linux on my old PC.)

        But that practice has long since been discontinued... even though it's still difficult for the average consumer to actually buy a pre-built PC without Windows on it.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 11:50am

          Re: Re: Re: Let's clear something up

          Dell sell all their PCs without Windows as an optional. Or you can buy them separately.

           

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            tomxp411 (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 4:54pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Let's clear something up

            Really? I have multiple Windows licences just sitting here unused, and I couldn't figure out how to get an OS-free machine when I bought my last laptop.

             

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          John Fenderson (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 1:35pm

          Re: Re: Re: Let's clear something up

          Yes, the practice was discontinued as a result of the antitrust actions taken against them.

          Even now, if you buy a computer with Windows preinstalled and aren't going to use Windows, Microsoft will refund the license fee for that machine to you. It's not actually worth doing -- there's a lot of hoops to jump through and waiting to be done, and the amount of money you get is lower than you might think as the license fee is nowhere near the retail price for Windows -- but you can do it.

           

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      Wally (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 5:55pm

      Re: Let's clear something up

      Even then, Internet Explorer's history is extremely spotty since it was a blatantly rebranded copy of Mosiac.

       

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    Tom (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:28am

    The idea that giving away some software for free is somehow anti-competitive is just laughable.


    Actually, I kind of see the point. Microsoft, Blackberry, Apple, and Google have all spent millions of dollars to develop their mobile operating systems. Aside from Google, all of the other platform developers have opted to profit from this by making the consumer pay for the software - either as part of the device (in the case of iOS and Blackberry) or through license fees, like MS does with Windows Phone.

    The thing is, so-called "loss leaders" are a common tactic: bringing in customers with good deals, then hooking them in with contracts or more expensive products can be abusive. A lot of retail stores, for example, have been accused of moving in to a town, setting low initial prices on products, then raising their price once competition has dried up.

    I think you could make a case that giving something away for free can be used to hook people in to something that they would not otherwise have purchased. Internet Explorer is perhaps a perfect example of this; IE started out as payware, but it quickly became free. Netscape, the first browser I had experience with, also started as payware - but IE killed Netscape's market share, even though Netscape was a much better product at the time.

    That's the real issue here: free software isn't always or even usually as good as the paid-for alternatives, yet people use free stuff because it's good enough.

    In the case of IE, this definitely harmed the industry by creating a conflicting set of "standards" for CSS and web design. You have to basically write web sites twice, now: once for IE and once for everything else.

    However, in the mobile phone industry, I think we're facing a situation where the free product is actually better than its competition in many ways: I didn't choose Android based on price; I chose it because it's more like a real computer than the other mobile OS's I've used.

    The fact is that for the consumer, all of these OS's are free. The OS comes with the device, and that's all there is to it. We've already also discovered that Android actually costs manufacturers money in terms of patent licenses: rumor has it that Microsoft makes more from its patents in Android device than from Windows Phone devices.

    So while I do agree that this really isn't anti-competitive in this instance, I also cannot agree with the assertion that free software can't be anti-competitive. I think that free software, when it's used as a way to lock people in to products or services that are more costly in the long run, can and definitely have been harmful to the industry.

     

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      SirThoreth (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:48am

      Re:

      >>That's the real issue here: free software isn't always or even usually as good as the paid-for alternatives, yet people use free stuff because it's good enough.

      Something I've read elsewhere springs to mind: if the product you're using was given to you for free, you're not the customer, you're the product.

      That's largely been my distaste with Android in general, and ad-driven software in particular. Unfortunately, ad-driven software on smartphones is starting to become the norm, and Android has become such a "default" in the industry it's hard to go with the competitors (other than Apple's "walled garden", where the fact that you're a product is just as apparent).

       

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        JEDIDIAH, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 11:07am

        Don't kid yourself.

        Apple products are no less ad driven. The free part really is just the operating system. The content still requires a business model. If the users are cheap, then that quite often ends up being ads.

        Dunno if that's the worst thing really because you have the alternative of insidious micro-payments.

         

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        Ninja (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 12:11pm

        Re: Re:

        You can always root your Android and kill adverts from within. However I find it quite easy to ignore ads: switch off the connection and most ads will go poof. As for the apps that only work online and have adverts if it's not annoying then I don't really care. The problem is not the ads themselves but when they become annoying.

        The beauty of Android in my view is that along with being easy it's very easily customizable (ie: custom builds, mods) so you can always get rid of the bad parts if you want. By easy I mean that if you read about it you can learn how to do it ;))

         

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        nasch (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 1:00pm

        Re: Re:

        Something I've read elsewhere springs to mind: if the product you're using was given to you for free, you're not the customer, you're the product.

        That's largely been my distaste with Android in general, and ad-driven software in particular.


        Free doesn't necessarily mean ad-supported. There are any number of open source products that aren't ad supported and you could really say there is no customer. Just users.

         

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        tomxp411 (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 4:59pm

        Re: Re:

        if the product you're using was given to you for free, you're not the customer, you're the product.

        Except that most of the free software I use isn't ad-driven. Certainly, Open Office, Paint.Net, and Inkscape aren't adware.

        And then there's all the free developer tools out there. Eclipse, SharpDevelop, the list goes on.

        My thinking is that the real reason Android is free is because its developers wanted to use Linux as a base. That pretty much forced them to continue under the GPL.

        And quite frankly, I'm glad they did. There's been a lot of stuff that free Android has made possible that would have been a lot more difficult, if not impossible without it: stuff that has nothing to do with Google or even mobile phones.

         

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          SirThoreth (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 11:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Except that most of the free software I use isn't ad-driven. Certainly, Open Office, Paint.Net, and Inkscape aren't adware.

          I was more referencing Google's own apps: GMail, Google Docs, Youtube, etc. They're free (well, unless you have a paid business account). This isn't done out of the goodness of Google's heart.


          My thinking is that the real reason Android is free is because its developers wanted to use Linux as a base. That pretty much forced them to continue under the GPL.

          Not necessarily. As a counter-example, think of webOS, which, while it was still active, was my preferred mobile OS: used Linux, not free, and much of it wasn't open source. Fairly open? Sure: look at how active, even today, the modding community is with webOS, and Open webOS is helping continue it. Running Linux, though, didn't force Palm or HP to give away webOS for free, though.

          And quite frankly, I'm glad they did. There's been a lot of stuff that free Android has made possible that would have been a lot more difficult, if not impossible without it: stuff that has nothing to do with Google or even mobile phones.

          I'll agree with that.

           

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      techflaws (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:59pm

      Re:

      That's the real issue here: free software isn't always or even usually as good as the paid-for alternatives, yet people use free stuff because it's good enough.

      I fail to see any issue with this.

      In the case of IE, this definitely harmed the industry by creating a conflicting set of "standards" for CSS and web design.

      Which has nothing to do with IE being free and all with Microsof~1 being the dicks they are. Netscape Navigator was free for end-users to.

       

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        tomxp411 (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 4:04pm

        Re: Re:

        That's the real issue here: free software isn't always or even usually as good as the paid-for alternatives, yet people use free stuff because it's good enough.

        I fail to see any issue with this.


        It's an issue when a loss leader is used to crowd out competitors with better products, and then that "special deal" is taken away when the competition disappears.

        To be fair, I don't think that's actually happening here: Android is a quality product that can stand on its own. I have seen this happen in the past, though: one company manages to get in to the OEM market, and their competition dries up for lack of sales.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 11:52am

    Didn't Microsoft lose that case against it though? I thought that was why they stripped out Office from windows originally.

    I know Windows 8 still has a different Euro build that has less MS products included at install. It seems that over there giving out too much free shit really is "anti-competitive". Which I guess just shows that their legal system is as against the public as ours.

     

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      tomxp411 (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 5:03pm

      Re:

      Office has never been part of Windows. Microsoft had to remove Internet Explorer from Windows in some part of the world.

      It's still here in the US, though. It's the browser I use to install Chrome.

      Actually, I do tend to agree with Microsoft's logic on one point: providing a browser with the OS allows software developers to more easily provide a text visualization layer that doesn't need a lot of coding. If I'm going to distribute text and graphics as part of a program, I know that there's an easy way to show it to the user.

      This used to be done by the Help system. Help files used to be something very much like HTML, as a matter of fact... but in recent years, more and more programs are simply linking to web pages or HTML documents for user documentation, and an HTML doc is much easier to build than a help file.

      But you still need some sort of baseline presentation layer for that... which means the OS really does need some sort of HTML viewer, or what we call a web browser.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 12:05pm

    Not comparable to IE for the simple fact that android is open source.

    One piece of software dominating the market isn't a problem if no company hads a monopoly on that software

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 2:41pm

    Didn't Microsoft get the same complaints over Windows Defender back when they announced that it was going to be free? Something about predatory pricing?

     

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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Apr 9th, 2013 @ 3:14pm

    It's deja-vu all over again!

    (See "IBM Loses Latest Round In Symbolic Control Case".)

    And while we're on the subject, does this not look eerily familiar?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 4:26pm

    Nokia is the last one that should complain.

    I was an Symbian S60v5 user and was very happy with it, and I had the intention to try their Meego. For me Symbian was evolving in the right direction with Symbian Belle, actually in my view Symbian Belle was globally superior to iOS and Android, its evolution was rater good in improving only its inferior aspects while maintaining its strong points. Now thanks to Elop I'm a happy Android user with my view in Sailfish but very cautious on it, If Elop didn't had killed Symbian I'm sure that I had brought another Symbian Phone.

    Nokia now is only a shadow of it past, they didn't need a OS with a strong ecosystem, they had it, actually with their past workforce well managed they had the possibility to offer a ton off free high quality apps to make the best experience for their user. Is basically what Google do now some time fails but their apps tend to be one of the 10 best in their category.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 5:46pm

    People left and right are forgetting that Google's main revenue stream stems from advertising....and licensing Android kernel so that manufactures can make a shell....and it's in that order. So yeah, Google is "free"...uses you realize they use data directly from your phone to target more ads to you.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 10:58pm

      Re:

      Huh? android kernel is GPLv2 and google is not the sole copyright holder, just how would they license that?

      The modified kernel will always be free and you will always be able to patch out any data collection from it.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 11:00pm

        Re: Re:

        Forgot to mention, not all phones have an unlocked bootloader so you can do that.

        I mean to say google cannot force kernal vendors or end useres of unlocked phones to have any kernel spying intact

         

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        nasch (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 8:05am

        Re: Re:

        The modified kernel will always be free and you will always be able to patch out any data collection from it.

        It seems unlikely the actual kernel has that stuff in it, doesn't it? Wouldn't that be built on top of the kernel, in "userspace" if you want to geek out? BTW, does Android use GNU stuff or their own?

         

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    Bob Ketterer, Apr 9th, 2013 @ 8:05pm

    What's AntiTrust?

    A trust can be a band of companies and/or individuals that use their combined strength to manipulate free market business. Maybe they will use their combined political strength to manipulate government to indirectly manipulate the free market. Thus they endeavor to force out lower priced products so they can gouge the defenseless consumer with predatory "selling".
    Yep. That sounds just like what we're seeing.

     

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    toyotabedzrock (profile), Apr 10th, 2013 @ 12:40am

    Apples and Oranges

    IE was not free. It was also made so that it could not be removed.

     

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    masquisieras, Apr 10th, 2013 @ 2:59am

    but the complain is not about Android perse

    You have Free-Android the OS and a bundle of product that are free but with a license Google Play, youtube, gmail, location service… the complain is that the useful Android is a combination of the Free-Android + part of the bundle and google is making that to get access to the bundle OEM must include the whole bundle as primary services is that last part that they are complaining.

     

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

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    identicon
    Cowards Anonymous, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 12:36pm

    Microsoft still doesn't get it

    Microsoft and its partners tried this anti-competitive claim against Linux and the GPL being "free" back when SCO was still around. They failed.

    The issue with IE was not that it was "free". In fact, it was originally available as a free download or disk for Windows 95 to compete with Netscape. That wasn't what got Microsoft into antitrust problems, it was when they started "bundling" IE with every purchased copy of Windows 98 that made IE no longer "free" and anti-competitive. That and Microsoft bullying OEMs to not preinstall any other browser if they wanted their OEM license discount.

    Linux, Android, and the GPL don't cross this line. They are available for "free", but never bundled. You always have a choice. Phone manufacturers could offer iOS on their phones as an alternative to Android, but Apple forbids iOS from being installed on any hardware but theirs.

    But of course, Microsoft seems to think that because it did wrong and got spanked for it that anyone else who competes with them must be guilty too. A liar assumes that everyone else is a liar, a thief assumes that everyone else is a thief.

     

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

  •  
    identicon
    Wireless Internet India, May 14th, 2013 @ 1:41am

    Google needs android

     

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


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