Stop me if you’ve heard this one already. The EU Commission chief has stated today that the EC is looking into Google’s partnership deals with OEMs and carriers regarding its bundled suite of apps. As we’ve heard a few times before, the question is whether Google is unfairly stifling competition by requiring manufacturers and carriers to accept all of its apps if they want to use just one, usually Google Play.
Even though that one app provides access to millions of alternatives to Google’s pre-loaded offerings, the EU Commission is concerned that “by requiring phone makers and operators to pre-load a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers.”
Google has already come under fire from the EC in the past for favoring its own products in Google searches and for allegedly preventing manufacturers from developing competing platforms to Android. If found guilty of antitrust violations, Google could be fined $7.45 billion, or 10% of its $74.5 billion 2015 revenue.
If found guilty of antitrust violations, Google could be fined $7.45 billion, or 10% of its $74.5 billion 2015 revenue.
A report from last week claimed the EC might send Google a formal antitrust complaint “within days”. Google’s taxation and advertising arrangements are also being reviewed by the EU Commission.
Whether this investigation amounts to a serious breach of competition law or just another witch-hunt only time will tell, but Google is no stranger to being investigated in Europe. Google’s EMEA business and operations president, Matt Brittin, has already spoken out against what he sees as an out-of-touch EC, saying “there are some places in Europe and some interests in Europe where the first inclination is to protect the past from the future”.
The disconnect between what the EC feels is fair and what it claims users expect is played out in the statement that “when we take a new smartphone out of its box, we want it to be ready to go straight away. We expect the maker – or the network operator – to make sure the basic apps, like a search app, are pre-loaded before it gets to us.”
We expect the maker – or the network operator – to make sure the basic apps are pre-loaded.
But this is exactly what Google does. Through its app-bundling agreement, it provides users with a suite of reliable apps that perform all the basic tasks one might expect of a new smartphone. If those pre-loaded apps do not fit the bill, the user is more than welcome to search for alternatives.
The sticky part of the question is to what degree Google is “allowed” to treat Android like its own product. By offering Android for free, manufacturers and carriers are free to modify the software as they see fit, including which apps they pre-load on devices. But if carriers or OEMs wish to include the Google Mobile Services package, Google asks for a few things in return.
Some see this is perfectly reasonable while others divine the sinister workings of a global tech behemoth looking to smother the flames of invention and competition in their crib. But it is important to note that no one is under any obligation to use Google’s Play Store, Chrome, Google Maps or ay other official apps. Amazon and other companies have tried to “de-Google” Android to varying degrees of success.
What do you think of this latest claim from the EC? Does Google stifle competition?