If you buy a new Android smartphone or tablet in Russia, you may not see any of Google’s standard apps or services on those devices out of the box any more. That’s because Google has reached a settlement with the Russian Federal Anti-Monopoly Service that states, in part, that Android devices sold in that country will no longer require that they have Google’s apps like Maps, Gmail and others to be pre-installed in order for those devices to gain access to the Google Play Store.
According to Reuters, the agreement also allows Android products in Russia the freedom to pre-install rivals to Google’s search engine. The company has also agreed to create a tool that will allow Android device owners to set up a default search engine.
The settlement agreement is the end of a dispute between Google and Russia that began in February 2015. At that time, the Russian-based Yandex search engine sent a complaint to regulators claiming that Google’s requirement of pre-installing its search and other apps to gain access to the Play Store on Android was giving it an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Later that year, the government agreed with Yandex’s arguments, and in 2016 the FAS fined Google 468 million rubles ($6.75 million) for antitrust violations. Today’s settlement covers a period of six years and nine months, which means that Google cannot make Android device companies pre-install its apps until the end of 2023.
This new development could cause other countries to launch their own antitrust investigations against Google. The European Commission has already started its own look into the company’s Android requirements. Google has already countered by saying the EC’s complaints do not consider competition between Android and Apple’s iOS. However, today’s decision in Russia could open the flood gates around the world and Google might have to make many similar settlements in the future. How this will affect the Android app ecosystem, and indeed the entire Android device market as a whole, is still an open question.
Update: A Google spokesperson sent over word that today’s settlement agreement does not necessarily mean that all Android smartphones in Russia will not have Google apps pre-installed; hardware partners will still have the option to do so if they choose. It also sent over this more specific statement on the settlement:
We are happy to have reached a commercial agreement with Yandex and a settlement with Russia’s competition regulator, the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), resolving the competition case over the distribution of Google apps on Android.