In a antitrust complaint filed with the European Commission, Aptoide, a Portuguese company that runs a marketplace for mobile applications, claims that Google is abusing its dominant position in the smartphone market to push users away from app stores that rival its own, Google Play.
Last year, Nokia, Microsoft and more than a dozen other companies filed a complaint with the European Commission, accusing Google of anti-competitive behavior because of the way Google uses Android to promote its own applications. For example, Google apps such as Maps, YouTube or Play are required to preload many other Google mobile services and have prominent default placement on the devices.
“We are struggling to grow, even to survive, in the face of Google systematically setting up obstacles for users to install third-party app stores in the Android platform and blocking competition in their Google Play store.” - Paulo Trezentos, Aptoide’s co-founder and CEO.
Specifically, Aptoide has 4 complaints per GigaOM:
Blocking: A non-compete clause in the Play Store terms and conditions means no fully-functional third-party app store can be found in the Play Store. The app stores that are in there are therefore “nothing more than catalogs” that then steer users to the Play Store mechanisms for downloading the apps they want, Trezentos said. Therefore, Aptoide can only be downloaded to a phone via the service’s mobile web page. Except…
Installation obstacles: The firm claims Google has made it progressively more difficult to install apps from third-party sources. According to Trezentos, Aptoide’s focus groups showed that, in Android 2.1, 80 percent of users could easily find the setting that allows third-party app installation. But that option kept becoming harder to find on the relevant settings page, and after Android 4.0 “only 20 percent” of users could figure out how to find it.
Bundling: Google Mobile Services (GMS), the suite that Google-ifies an Android phone, is strongly coupled with the Play Store. So, for example, an Android-based Amazon Kindle device uses Amazon’s own store and also doesn’t come with Google’s services, while a standard Android phone will come with Google Maps and so on, and must therefore also include the Play Store.
Other Google services: Aptoide claims that Google’s Chrome browser blocked the page for the Aptoide installer on the premise that it was infested with malware. The firm’s attempts to show Google its clean bill of health over the last 4 weeks have allegedly elicited no response. What’s more, Aptoide says Google is making the inclusion of the Play Store mandatory in its search agreements with carriers. “They pay telecoms to ship phones with their search and now they start to bundle search and Play,” Trezentos told me.
Currently, Android has 72.4 percent of the smartphone market share in Europe so the question of whether there is an antitrust issue is interesting.
Although EU regulators haven’t opened an investigation into Google’s practices, EU antitrust chief Joaquín Almunia said last month that his agency was considering opening such an investigation.
In February, Google reached a tentative deal with Mr. Almunia by agreeing to display rivals’ links more prominently in its search results. This deal allowed Google to close a three-year case and avoid a potential fine of up to $5 billion.
This month, Martin Schulz, a German Socialist candidate to become the next head of the European Commission, threatened to overturn Mr. Almunia’s settlement with Google if he won that office. Additionally, the French economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, and German economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, wrote to Mr. Almunia to express concerns about the settlement and to push him to demand more concessions from Google.