Why Facebook is scared of Android

by: Derek ScottDecember 17, 2015


A series of discussions between Google and Facebook took place over the course of this summer, and Facebook walked away from them a little shaky. Their concern? All it would require is one completely reasonable move by Google to take a serious financial bite out of the social giant. It’s something Facebook can’t defend against, and you can’t help but sense that they feel a little bit at the mercy of Google just now.

The Threat

This issue has to do with API calls. Every time you view Google Maps information in your Facebook app, the app must make an API call through Google’s server. Every time you’ve received a Facebook notification on your phone – if you use an Android device – Google must again handle an API call. These cost Google money, but so far they haven’t been charging developers for it.

Facebook owns four of the most popular Android apps in the world: Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger… all of which rely heavily on Google-handled API calls.

However, they totally could charge for it. Imagine if a greedier company were in the same position. I don’t want to step on any toes, so I’m just going to invent some hypothetical company that has a cynical corporate policy to ruthlessly take advantage of any lack of options on the part of the consumer. Let’s just make up a name and call them “Comcast” or something. So imagine if “Comcast” were in Google’s boots. Even if they didn’t jack the prices up to actually profit from the API calls, we would expect such a company to at least charge enough to break even on their cost.

360 in News Feed facebookSee also: Facebook’s offline news feed lets you continue your obsession even in the subway4

This amount would be miniscule for smaller app developers – especially for apps that don’t reach for other Google services like Google Maps – but for Facebook, the bottom line would be staggering. You see, most Facebook users own Android devices. And Facebook owns four of the most popular Android apps in the world: Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger… all of which rely heavily on Google-handled API calls.

How real is the threat of Google charging for this? Pretty damn real. Google started charging websites for using things like Google Maps years ago, so even though the company has remained mute on this issue, Facebook’s concerns are legitimate.

Currently, it’s totally feasible to use a method of delivery other than Google Cloud Messaging (the service that handles these API calls). So prior to this summer, Facebook may have had hopes of developing their own system and decoupling themselves from Google. But just like the final scenes of Ghostbusters, despair arrived in the form of something soft and white and round.


Android 6 Marshmallow raining crop

Marshmallow, Android’s newest version, introduced a number of changes to the way the Android operating system handles notifications. These changes make it much more difficult for developers to use anything but Google Cloud Messaging to ferry notifications to their apps.

It makes sense that Google would want to make sure that apps use their proprietary system to vet app notifications before sending them out to Android devices. In terms of both security and consistent user experience, this is a no-brainer. But now Facebook is staring down the barrel of an Android future in which there will no longer be any option but to lean on Google’s API support.

These changes to notifications have some other ramifications as well. See, one of the main goals in Marshmallow’s development was to improve battery life across the board. Google realized that the best way to do this would be to let devices ‘doze’ for longer intervals and handle notifications in batches. Marshmallow introduced a caste system that allows devs to categorize pushed content as “low priority” and “high priority.” Low priority notifications get bundled up by Google Cloud Messaging and sent to devices over intervals. High priority notifications that may require immediate interaction – like Facebook notifications – are sent right away, waking up the device.

This concept is another reason why Google wants to consolidate all notifications in their Cloud Messaging system. It gives them the capacity to string out non-essential notifications over a longer period of time, vastly increasing battery life.

This is a problem for Facebook, because all of their Android apps use a lot of high priority notifications. Why is this a problem?

android 6.0 marshmallowSee also: Android 6.0 Marshmallow – New features explained58

A Battle of Batteries and Perception

Although Marshmallow has made some changes to improve battery life, many of these changes simply don’t apply to Facebook’s apps. Their reliance on high priority notifications means that their app will get shuffled right to the top of the battery consumption list on Android phones. Facebook doesn’t like the idea that their app will be associated with battery drain going forward. They also believe that this system of notification segregation is the first step down a path that will lead to decreased user engagement.

Their reliance on high priority notifications means that their app will get shuffled right to the top of the battery consumption list on Android phones. Facebook doesn’t like the idea that their app will be associated with battery drain going forward.

Their theory is this. Notifications increase engagement with an app. By creating this division, Google is essentially encouraging developers to make every notification a high priority notification. If devs ever do this, then this battery-saving method will be a bust. To salvage it, Google may start trying to decide what notifications constitute the High Priority label. They’ve done it before with Gmail, after all. Those “Promotions” and “Social” tabs are the result of a very similar process, and if all Facebook notifications get the same level of priority that Gmail treats them with (i.e. very little), Facebook worries they will see a drop in user engagement and, ergo, a drop in profit.

The Theater of Cold War


The strategic options Facebook has in this scenario are extremely limited. Not so long ago, Facebook began plans for developing an entire ‘Google Replacement Suite’ that would allow their app to exist without interacting with Google at all. This would have involved creating replacements for Google Maps, Youtube, Google Search, and the Google Play Store. The plan was for Facebook to encourage Android device manufacturers to preload their apps on smartphones instead of Google’s.

The idea was abandoned for multiple reasons. Primary among these was the sheer scope of the endeavor. Secondly, to make such a bold move would be an open act of aggression against Google, and both companies are far too profitable to each other to want that. The fact that Facebook was even considering such an extreme measure is a testament to how uncomfortable they are eating at Google’s table.

Although they remain rivals and competitors, the only company that makes more money off Android than Facebook is Google. With over 1 billion app users on the operating system, it makes sense that Facebook would want to play nice with their host. Nevertheless, the situation is incredibly tricky.

Leaning on the Enemy

The concept of ‘platforms’ has made the technological business landscape a strange one. It’s a place rife with stiff alliances, stalemates, and standoffs. Once you start using someone else’s service as your platform, you become subject to their rules and changes. If you become rivals, this gives the hosting party a massive upper hand. The only way to completely escape this dynamic is to create a competitive analogue platform of your own.

The concept of ‘platforms’ has made the technological business landscape a strange one. It’s a place rife with stiff alliances, stalemates, and standoffs. Once you start using someone else’s service as your platform, you become subject to their rules and changes.

Google was in this same situation not too long ago. With most of their searches coming from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, the company scrambled for a way to ensure that they weren’t dependent on Microsoft as a platform. To get there, they had to do what Internet Explorer was already doing and do it better. Chrome is the result of Google trying to escape the same situation that Facebook now finds itself in. And they were successful.

However, Facebook is staring at a much steeper slope than Google was looking at. Google services are now ubiquitous. If the social media company wants to escape their predicament, they would have to do more than just create a successful browser. They would also need to recreate better versions of all the services mentioned above, and they would need to be competitive enough with Google to coax over a viable userbase. Replacing YouTube alone is a herculean task that, frankly, Facebook just isn’t up to.

So for now, Facebook remains reliant on Google’s services. The best they can do right now is hope that Google doesn’t decide to cash in on their reliance.

What do you think about the strange relationship between Facebook and Android? Let us know in the comments!

Next: 10 best new Android apps

  • great write up! I did not know about 80% of this! so crazy how everything works behind the scenes

  • Virtual anomaly

    Ha! Maybe now google will force Facebook to stop their battery draining app

    • A tech god


    • David Vargas

      Oh Google, please. Facebook apps are a pain on every battery ?

    • Aaron

      No Facebook crap apps are on my phone since 2012. Oh yeah. I use the mobile web instead when i need to. Once in a while i’ll install Facebook and check back how it has been improved, use around a few hours to find out and then uninstall again.

  • philosopher_Mk

    Wait a second . This article is really misleading . Facebook don’t rely on Google for notification , they don’t use gcm for push notifications. Facebook can work on AOSP without Google services .

    The thing with Google maps have nothing to do with Android,its the same on every other platform.

    • JosephHindy

      According to the article, the fear is that Facebook will eventually have to use GCM, having all other options removed. Nowhere does it state that this is the case now.

      • John William Dye

        This is exactly right.

    • Zak Taccardi

      Are you sure facebook doesn’t use GCM? I’m pretty sure they do, but have a fallback for when its not available.

  • Da_James

    Does anyone know if, and where, can we change those high priorities list? I’d happily set messenger as high priority, facebook as low and everything low from 10pm to 8am… More battery and less possibilities to wake up at night ^^

    • JosephHindy

      Unfortunately, Google doesn’t give us, the consumers, this option. This is all handled by developers.

  • coldspring22 .

    So what happens to companies which fork Android like Cyanogenmod and Chinese companies which have their own google equivalent services? Do they also need to be worried about Marshmellow and Google’s increasing control over API?

  • jrod3737

    “Let’s just call them ‘Comcast,'” I about lost it.

    • John Doe

      He should have used a fruit ..

    • AnasLinux

      should called them Apple

  • Tommy

    Good article. One of the very few I’ve read from start to finish.
    …and one of very few that doesn’t take a bias view or pot shot at someone or something. Good reporting!

    • John William Dye


      • enyibinakata

        Here, have a beer!

        Seriously good writing. About time a pro Android blog delivered some quality writing. It’s been quite average to poor thus far, leaving theVerge and its ilk to rule the roost.

        Keep up the good work.

  • Robert Dunn

    Excellent article. It makes a lot of sense. Well, as long as Android continues being the dominant smartphone platform, Facebook just has to continue playing nice with the platform.

  • Dusan

    Pfft, I want instant notifications from Facebook on my phone. If Google blocks that I might be moving away from Android.
    If people don’t want Facebook to drain their battery just uninstall the application and instead visit the site through web browser?
    This change would be pointless for me. More of a big no no than a welcome change.

    • creep_the_night

      You… Can’t be serious.

    • TJ

      I’m speechless

      • Dusan

        Yeah, why don’t you two come up with something more constructive besides replies that my 4 year old nephew can do better?
        I guess you got nothing better.

    • Alexandru

      You can browse Facebook from Chrome and receive notifications. Everybody wins.

  • Zak Taccardi

    This is some blatant fearmongering. Google is never going to charge for GCM. Ever. Apple doesn’t charge for APNS – and neither will Google. Would be terrible for the ecosystem.

    High priority notifications are a godsend. They allow batching of lesser notifications, and greatly improve battery life.

  • ShtHappens796

    I hardly ever comment on articles, but this one was just the greatest of all. A BUNCH of interesting info. Lovely.

  • Roby

    Forcing developers to use something that you absolutely have to pay for and blocking other free alternatives sounds like a good enough reason to fine Google in the millions, at least here in the EU.

    • Brandon

      It is their OS, their service they are providing, and the developers aren’t necessarily being forced to develop apps for Android. Don’t like it, don’t use Android, or better yet, Develop your own alternative OS.

      • Roby

        So what? If you think it’s ok to do whatever a company wants just because they made a product you better think again.
        Or said company will be fined in the hundreds of millions of Euro by the EU.
        And it wouldn’t be the first time. So things like abusing market dominance are a thing in case you thought otherwise.

        • Brandon

          Do you have any real reason why a company can’t do what it wants with their product, in terms of how they provide the service or product? You aren’t being forced to use the product, developers aren’t being forced to develop for Android, and it is a non-essential service(meaning you can survive without a smartphone, as billions of people do). There are at least two viable alternatives to Android, those being Windows and iOS. This is what is wrong with Europe, and the illogical socialist mindset be propagated in the west. We are not entitled to some right to have the services of any company, to believe we do would be to believe in the right to enslave someone. In a properly functioning market, people exchange goods for goods, or goods for services. If a person sees something he or she wants, he must convince the owner of the good, or the provider of the service, to trade them that good, or provide that service. In this situation, the negotiation power of the customer is determined by the supply of customers; if the supply of customers is high and they are easy to obtain, the individual has very little negotiation power. So, the seeker of the good or service, is at the will of the seller/provider, in this situation. But, in your world, and to an extent here in the USA, if you want what someone is offering, and you don’t like the terms, you just have to get the government big man involved to force the person/company to provide the service according to your terms, which is usually free. Using the law, or mob rule, to force a person/company to provide a service, is slavery, especially when the person/company is forced to provide the service for free. Now, I’m not arguing whether there are laws that will be violated, I’m just saying those laws are illogical.

          • Roby

            Your arguments are flawed, your logic worthless and you don’t understand how the legal system works or which problems it tackles. Nor does it seem like you will ever comprehend such things. In short, you’re a moron and I don’t feel like dealing with morons.
            Therefore I shall no longer waste my time talking to you. Have a nice day.

          • Richard Riker

            Say that these dumb asses in the European Parleament…
            Nobody of them has any idea of the reality and we don’t have the possibility to change that. There is just no one that could do better

    • Scott Robart

      You understand that Google isn’t obligated to provide services for free, right? Yet that’s what it’s doing for Facebook currently, it’s giving them free bandwidth, free resources. Taking away something which someone was giving for free isn’t grounds for a fine or any other sanctions. Even if Google said “we’re going to charge Facebook a billion dollars for each API call”, that STILL wouldn’t be enough of a reason to sanction or fine Google.

      To think of this in a more reasonable way, it would be like me maintaining the road to your house out of the kindness of my heart. I never asked for anything in return, never asked you to pay me, but one day I say you can either start paying me for maintaining your road, or you can live on an unmaintained road. The fact that I previously maintained your road would have no bearing on any future transactions, I couldn’t come to you and say that you owed me $5 million for all of the times I maintained your road, but I could most definitely ask you to pay me for all future maintenance. Do you think that you have the right to FORCE me to maintain your road, too?

      • Roby

        “Marshmallow, Android’s newest version, introduced a number of changes to the way the Android operating system handles notifications. These changes make it much more difficult for developers to use anything but Google Cloud Messaging to ferry notifications to their apps.”
        Forbidding others to build their own roads and competing freely still sounds like reason enough for a hefty fine.
        Get it? Google charging for something they own is OK. Google saying “You have to use our paid service because we blocked all other alternatives” is not. That would give Google a significant advantage over other apps and hinder the competition which the EU frowns upon since they want a free, competitive and evolving market.

        Anyway, this is too old of a discussion for me to bother responding anymore. Have a nice day.

  • Nathan Sassaman

    I am fine with that, I just gave up Facebook and Twitter….too much of a distraction.

    • Aditya Naik

      Same here, dude. I quit fb in 2011, and boy, was that the best decision of my little life! ^^

  • Shawny

    Asks for all the users their Personal Details, gets paranoid when other companies do the same to them

    • TJ

      Remember the while microphone permission thing? Ha

  • SoSoGanzi

    Interesting read. Uninstalled Facebook a while ago because I didn’t want the notifications. (Yes I know you can turn them off in the app). Now I know it’s a huge drain on my battery, tsk, tsk. Still using a Note 2 so I guess it makes no difference. My battery life is shi+ anyways.

    • TJ

      I turned off notifications and blocked all permissions. It works fine and doesn’t ever make it into my battery stats.

  • Dan Smith

    I think that this is a very well written article, that’s what I think!

    • John William Dye

      I appreciate it! Some say a writer can live a month off a compliment, so it looks like I’m set through mid-January.

  • Alexander Rockwell

    I don’t use anything Facebook, so the thing that made me cringe the most was when the article mentioned Facebook was originally looking into a whole suite to try and get preloaded on phones. I’ve seen their battery draining capabilities first hand by working on family members phones. Keep that horrible company away from mine please.

  • TJ

    I would never back anything Facebook but they do have a point. Here we have an open source operating system that will not work without GCM and other Google services. There’s a few projects going on trying to make it work but it’s been years and nothing has changed. It’s quite disturbing to know that everything goes through Google on our devices.

  • Steven van der Bent

    Ahh Google, please go and get them on their knees. Facebook is untrustworthy. Facebook is bad. They don’t give a shit about their users wishes.

  • Steve Goode

    I think that if the shoe was on the other foot face book would have dropped the hammer on Google looong ago . Don’t trust MZ..

    • Mexi Cool


  • neonix

    Fantastic article. I would love to see more writeups like this on AA.

  • abazigal

    This basically highlights the downside of not controlling your own OS. Didn’t Apple do the same thing last time when they removed Google Maps as the default mapping app on iOS in favour of their own maps app, in addition to removing YouTube?

    That said, I think the real question is whether Android will end up doing such a thing. I doubt it.

  • Svnjay

    “Imagine if a greedier company were in the same position. I don’t want to step on any toes, so I’m just going to invent some hypothetical company that has a cynical corporate policy to ruthlessly take advantage of any lack of options on the part of the consumer. Let’s just make up a name and call them “Comcast” or something.”

    Good one, AA.

  • I don’t think Google is going to charge for Notifications. If so they will lose many developers and free apps. They may introduce a system like in gmail to categorize priority

    • Steve Brain

      And be almost certainly legally vulnerable to monopolization lawsuits after the changes introduced in Marshmallow, almost making it impossible to not use Google Cloud Services. If they started enforcing costs on people using it, there will be an absolute shit storm of companies wanting Google’s head.

    • bobbybilly

      Why wouldn’t they? Facebook is a major competitor to their Google+ platform. Facebook couldn’t say no either, since as the article states that most Facebook users operate on Android. Not saying Google would charge everyone, but Facebook makes a lot of sense.

  • Arturo Raygoza

    What site am I on??? Nice change

  • AbbyZFresh

    I don’t get it?

  • Dennis Lui

    google would never do this, at least i hope not. lol I still use facebook, and i don’t want to switch to u know that fruit every one uses.plz google

  • MelchiahX

    This was an amazing read. Thank you for taking the time to put this together and explain it in detail.

    As for Google turning “evil” I’m not worried about that. As stated in the article both Facebook and Google benefit from each other. Anyone of them pushing for a stupid move would mean self annihilation. But then again who the hell knows lol.

    I just hope Google never forgets their motto… Don’t be evil.

    PS. I’ve installed the Facebook app and uninstalled it so many times because of its ridiculous battery drain. It’s been years now and they still can’t figure this out? I just login using chrome. Not the same experience but much less battery drain.

    • John William Dye

      I appreciate it. The subject matter was fascinating for me as well.

  • Scr-U-gle

    Scr-U-gle need Facebook more than the other way round. Lose the most popular apps, lose the customers.

    They can throw there toys out of the pram all they want, but without FB, Instagram (areas where Scr-U-gle have failed miserably) etc, no one would want an androne iphoney.

    Remenber Windows phone, with the automatic support of Littlesoftie helpdeskers, lost the market due to not getting these apps in a timely fashion, and has never recovered.

    • Great Dude

      But Windows do lacks the important apps and many not so important apps.
      However, if Facebook was removed ,then I am sure a lot of other third party apps would be ready to play there and I am sure Google will find a way to fake the browsers or the 3rd part apps to look as they are from a PC.

      • Scr-U-gle

        I don’t use Windows phones or desktop, but I believe WP has all the most popular apps.

        Like Blackberry, they just lost the market completely.

        Why, if Google are getting its knickers in a bunch are they not just removing Facebook/Instagram apps?

        If either of these Facebook apps have an ten minute outage it makes worldwide headlines and people go out of their minds.

        Google create nothing, they rely on others content to garner personal data. Without others content, google would collapse.

  • AJLeo

    yes, I am not using facebook on android only because of it battery drain.

  • neoand12

    This was such a good read. Gave me tons of insight.

    • John William Dye

      Thanks! I learned a lot doing the research to write it as well.

      • enyibinakata

        From now on you write all the articles ! No excuses

        • John William Dye

          Haha I’ve gotta eat and sleep sometime!

  • monsterdonutkid

    Great and informative article, John.

    • John William Dye

      Thanks MonsterDonutKid! You keep on doing monstery donut things.


    dose feature in marshmallow is very important for android future in battery life , as only GCM will wake the device from deep sleep

  • Harish Aluru

    Excellent! I think Google should start thinking from a shareholders’ perspective than.

  • Harish Aluru

    I think Google should start thinking from a shareholder’s perspective

  • yungqb7

    I honestly could care less. I went into the app settings for Facebook and disabled notifications because I found them to be a nuisance. Such much happier that I don’t have Facebook pestering me throughout my day. Having the app pre-installed doesn’t vibe well with me. If it’s not a core app, then there’s no reason for it to be pre-installed on my phone. Also, most of the time for non-core pre-installed apps can only be disabled not uninstalled. The unread counter on my Galaxy S6 is what makes me open the app from time to time. De-bloat your app, fix that annoying news feed, ease up on the pointless notifications, and maybe I’ll consider using the app a bit more frequently.

  • huckleberry582

    Loved the Comcast jab. Great piece of writing and can honestly say you held my attention through the whole article, which doesn’t happen often. I usually just skim these. Keep up the good work.

  • cristoux

    I just lock automatic connections (use of my data plan) and greenify right away. Facebook, Twitter, Mail… only when I want it.

  • Chandrasekhar Chanda

    Good article! Nice write up John…

  • Don

    +10,000 points for Comcast naming. -9000 points for ads jacking up this page for 10 seconds of loading. Seriously good article though

  • Jamie Sanger

    This is how articles should be all over the internet. Bit of humour, informative, well written and the open questions were what I would have asked myself too. Well done!

    I wonder if Mark Z jumping out is related to this at all? Must be a factor surely

  • EngineerGunter

    Very good read. Well organized and informative to the max! Good job, guys!

  • skroder

    Excellent article. Keep it up! It was long but I couldn’t stop reading.

  • SamsaraGuru

    I would imagine it must be a balancing of pluses and minuses for Google. On the one hand they know many if not most people who use Android use use Facebook and crippling Facebook could inadvertently hurt them too by introducing irritants that were blamed on Google, rather than Facebook.

  • nice one

  • Darthpilsner

    facebook is scarier than google

  • bwglive

    Someone explain my own elings here: I am an android user who firmly believes in there power of competition. Why is it, I cringe at Facebook creating their own platform to compete with Google, Apple, and Microsoft?