Google Under Fire for Mobile Search Domination
It seems like Google and its allies just can’t stay out of it. Google has become one of the foremost search companies in the world and has managed to accrue billions of dollars as a result. However, the methods of which it has been dominating are now under fire. A law firm is seeking to take the search giant to court for featuring itself prominently in the Android operating system via the enforcement of Mobile Application Distribution Agreements.
What are Mobile Application Distribution Agreements (MADAs)
Recently, documents known as Mobile Application Distribution Agreements (MADA)s, a well kept secret between Google and the Android Alliance, leaked online and as a result has become public knowledge.
This agreement is essentially signed by all the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or companies who are part of the Android Alliance. In this agreement, Google states that it will supply the Google apps such as GMail, Youtube etc. to the OEMs and they are to leave it as it and all updating and maintenance of the apps fall under Google’s purview. The OEMs are forbidden from disassembling or duplicating Google Apps.
Hence, Google was able to sandbox certain applications and services in their Jellybean (4.2) update of Android in 2012 under the umbrella of the Google Play Services which is essentially an application interface which allows developers to integrate their applications with services such as Search. This allowed them to update these applications via the Google Play Store independant of carriers and OEMs, allowing them to minimize the fragmentation caused by the lack of updates by OEMs and the long turnover times caused by carrier involvement in the U.S., by updating certain key components of the Android experience. This isn’t to say that Android in non-functional without the Google Play Services, as demonstrated by the NokiaX.
Using this information, a class action antitrust lawsuit was filed by Hagens Berman, the law firm which recently won a similar lawsuit against Apple for the price fixing of e-books. In the lawsuit, Hagens Berman claim to be representing the American public and accuses Google of using the Android ecosystem to further its domination of the search industry by forcing OEMs to prominently feature their search application. Founder, Steven Berman is quoted,
“Google’s monopoly of these markets stems from the company’s purchasing of Android mobile operating system to maintain and expand its monopoly by pre-loading its own suite of applications onto the devices by way of secret [agreements].”
He also stipulates that this agreement artificially inflated prices of devices from OEMs by allowing Google to forcefully include its apps such as GMail and Youtube in the Operating System (OS) hurting competition.
Berman and the representing attorney are quoted saying,
“It’s clear that Google has not achieved this monopoly through offering a better search engine, but through its strategic, anti-competitive placement […] Simply put, there is no lawful, pro-competitive reason for Google to condition licenses to pre-load popular Google apps like this.”
In essence accusing Google of placing themselves in a position to unfairly block their competitors Yahoo and Bing from penetrating the mobile space even with Apple devices.
This lawsuit is no doubt very ambitious and also threatens the search giant with a potentially enormous payout as it basically seeks damages for all devices sold since Google bought over Android in 2005. However, the biggest hurdle now would be to get enough people for it to continue into court where Google can file a suit for dismissal. Let’s not forget the deep pockets at Google’s disposal. In response, a representative of Google has said,
“Anyone can use Android without Google and anyone can use Google without Android. Since Android’s introduction, greater competition in smartphones has given consumers more choices at lower prices.”
5 Facts that May Unravel This Lawsuit
- Google search is a bundled app in Android, but many OEMs have not made it a permanent, prominent fixture on the screens like in the Google Experience Launcher which is available only on Google Play Editions and also Nexus devices.
- One major player in the mobile industry, Apple, does not use Google as their main search provider – they use Microsoft’s Bing.
- Windows Phone does the same with Bing, does that mean they are being hurtful to the market?
- Prices of flagship devices are maintained by OEMs and have little to do with Google including the Google Apps. This is seen in the recent releases of the MotoX and also the upcoming OnePlus One which are priced below USD300 (RM 1300) off contract.
- Nokia released the NokiaX, which is essentially an Android phone, without a trace of Google Play Services and Google Apps; instead it was replaced with a Windows phone like skin with Nokia’s proprietary store and Bing as their main search engine.
How will this lawsuit play out and how will it affect us? We’ll just have to wait and see. But from the looks of it, this is going to be a long wait.