Last April the European Commission, the EU's executive body, issued a statement criticizing Google's management of Android. The Commission accused Google of facilitating monopolistic practices, specifically by tying the Play Store, the Android version of Chrome, and other common Google apps to Google's Search services among licensed Android manufacturers. Keeping manufacturers from releasing forks of Android as a condition of participating in the Google ecosystem - a process which Google calls "anti-fragmentation" - was also an issue. It took a while, but Google has finally published a full response to the Commission.
That response is... well, disappointing. In a long blog post and a video, Google outlined its counter-argument:
- Android competes with iOS, so Google's practices aren't monopolistic in their effects.
- Google needs to incentivize manufacturers not to fragment Android, for the sake of developer access and the health of the platform as a whole.
- Users have plenty of choice for apps, whether or not Google apps are pre-installed. Manufacturers and carriers are free to pre-install competing apps.
- Google needs to insist on Search exclusivity to keep access to the Play Store free, with no restrictive licensing fees.
There's a lot more to it, mostly stories about how developers and manufacturers (including a whole lot of European Union citizens) have benefited from these policies. But Google's response doesn't really satisfy the concerns of the Commission's initial statement. It's fairly obvious misdirection: Google is pleading its case to developers and end-users, not to the EU's leaders directly.
Whether those leaders are correct in the first place is another discussion - and a long one, since the EC has a history of apparently targeting successful American tech firms ostensibly to open up space for European competitors. But Google's refutation of the initial statement rings hollow in a lot of ways. Just off the top of my head, and corresponding to the points above:
- With nearly 90% of the smartphone market, Google can't really claim that it's not attempting a monopoly, or that its OS (if not its policies) aren't slowly approaching near-total dominance.
- Android is open source, and any attempt by Google to retain control of it on a developer or user level is against the spirit of its foundation. Google might be the creator of Android, but that doesn't necessarily make the company its guardian.
- Having Google's Play Store pre-installed on more or less every Android phone and tablet is a clear market advantage. To make the discussion about individual apps is a dodge.
- The idea that the revenue gained from pre-installing Google Search helps keep Android and the Play Store free is only further evidence of Google's vested interest in driving away competition for both search and mobile.
Please note before you jump to the comments section: I don't necessarily believe the points above. I'm just showing that Google's assertions are weak and easy to counter, and you can bet that the Commission will do better with its eventual response. If Google wants to avoid a potential $3 billion loss in fines, it will have to make some more compelling arguments.
Google's response is in the source link. Here's the Commission's initial statement. Read them both if you want a full understanding of both sides of the issue.
- Google blog