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EU vs Google: 3 reasons why EU just declared war on Android

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Google vs Europe
Whose side are you on?

It’s official: the European Commission says Google is acting illegally on the continent – with Android, anyway.

According to the Commission – the European Union’s executive arm – Google is unlawfully “preventing competition” in the mobile and search markets.

Around 80% of smartphones in Europe (and globally, for that matter), run on Android, Google’s mobile operating system. The remaining 20% of devices are powered by software like Apple’s iOS, Microsoft’s Windows, and BlackBerry OS.

The Commission began investigating whether Google was doing anything dodgy way back in April 2015, and has now formally charged Google with misdeeds across Europe.

But what does the European Commission actually think Google did wrong?

Charge #1: Forcing Google Search and Google Chrome

If you want to build a phone that runs on Android, you’ll probably want to feature the huge, slick, app-tastic Google Play Store.

But Google says that if you do this, then you also need to pre-install Google Search and Google’s Chrome browser. It also requires manufacturers to set Google Search as the default search for the device.

Google PlayThe Google Play Store has over 2 million apps on offer

The European Commission says that Google is preventing competition on Android by doing this, as it doesn’t give rival search engines and browsers a fair chance to compete.

Charge #2: Preventing competing Android-based software

Android is open-source, which means that anyone can see the code, and use it to create their own spin-off version. That's exactly what Amazon does with its Fire tablet range.

But forked versions of Android are barred from the Google Play Store. In fact, to use the Play Store and Google Search apps, manufacturers must sign an “Anti-Fragmentation Agreement” that prohibits them from using a forked version of Android on any other device they sell.

This means manufacturers are less likely to develop a rival version of Android, and will instead opt to stick with Google’s in-house software.

The Commission says it actually found evidence of manufacturers being prevented from selling competing Android forks that had “the potential of becoming a credible alternative to the Google Android operating system”.

Charge #3: Paying off phone makers to promote Google Search

According to the Commission, Google is giving “financial incentives” to phone makers and mobile network operators.

This money is given as an incentive to “exclusively pre-install Google Search” on their devices.

The Commission says this is unlawful stifling of competition, because it makes it harder for other search engines to break Google’s dominance.

Poll: Is Google guilty? You decide

The Commission says…

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who heads up Europe’s competion policy, said:

“A competitive mobile internet sector is increasingly important for consumers and businesses in Europe. Based on our investigation thus far, we believe that Google’s behaviour denies consumers a wider choice of mobile apps and services and stands in the way of innovation by other players, in breach of EU antitrust rules. These rules apply to all companies active in Europe. Google now has the opportunity to reply to the Commission’s concerns.”

Google says…

In a blog post, Kent Walker, Senior Vice President & General Counsel at Google, wrote:

“The European Commission has been investigating our approach, and today issued a Statement of Objections, raising questions about its impact on competition. We take these concerns seriously, but we also believe that our business model keeps manufacturers’ costs low and their flexibility high, while giving consumers unprecedented control of their mobile devices. That’s how we designed the model.”

“Our partner agreements have helped foster a remarkable – and, importantly, sustainable – ecosystem, based on open-source software and open innovation. We look forward to working with the European Commission to demonstrate the careful way we’ve designed the Android model in a way that’s good for competition and for consumers.”

Related: Best Android Apps 2016

What happens next?

The charges filed against Google were laid out in a Statement of Objections (SO). The Commission sends an SO to a person or company before making a decision that “negatively affects their rights” – i.e. a punishment or restriction.

If the Commission wants to rely on any objection against Google when making its final decision, it has to be listed in the SO.

Google now has a chance to reply to the Commission, either in writing or at an in-person hearing, to make their case against the objections.

After Google has “exercised its rights of defence”, the Commission then makes a final decision. This could mean Google is forced to change the way it operates in Europe, and could see the company fined up to 10% of its global turnover. That’s a hefty sum, considering Google’s global annual revenue in 2015 was $74.5 billion.

If Google has to reform its business around the three objections, it could significantly change the Android phone market. It would be a significant boon to search engines like Bing and Yahoo, who could find their way into the hands of Android users far more easily, for instance. What’s more, without the Anti-Fragmentation Agreement, phone makers could make much more varied versions of Android, far detached from Google’s own software.

Of course, Google’s Android has been refined over the years, and tools like Google Search and Google Play are now mature and successful. Even if manufacturers have the option to avoid being restricted to these services, we’re now so late in the game that they might not want to.

Reactions to Google vs EU

Charles Arthur, former Technology Editor at The Guardian:

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation:

“Today’s announcement shows that the European Commission holds a misguided view of how competition law should be used to protect consumers in the era of digital platforms. Operating systems like Android benefit from economies of scale and network effects that naturally limit the number of competitors in the market, and this often produces greater value for consumers in the form of better features, lower costs, and increased interoperability. Fewer competitors does not necessarily mean that consumers will be harmed. It is striking in today’s announcement that the European Commission has failed to give concrete details about how consumers have been harmed by the alleged offenses.”

Jan Dawson, Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research:

Reddit (users /u/Quil0n, /u/NSADomesticUnit):

/u/Quil0n:

“Wait, don't Apple and Microsoft do the same thing by including their apps on their respective OSes? They might not have as much market share, but that in and of itself is anticompetitive to opposing app makers. Microsoft even does the same thing on the same scale with desktop PCs. If it's simply because Google has an open source OS, then there's no reason for Google to close it off and license Android like Microsoft does with Windows Mobile.”

/u/NSADomesticUnit:

“Microsoft absolutely does. Apple (arguably) does as well. More so with iOS than OS X. The problem with iOS doing this, is that they aren't in a monopoly situation, so what they're doing isn't considered anti-competitive because you have other options in smartphones.

Microsoft on the other hand, has been in trouble for forcing Internet Explorer on users, essentially trying to muscle out Netscape and other browsers in the early days of the public internet. In fact, it was bad enough that Microsoft actually invested hundreds of millions in Apple, which was failing at the time, so they wouldn't become a de facto monopoly. It was the cheapest solution for them.”

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Tell us your thoughts on the Commission’s charges against Google in the comments below.

TheHulksMothersCousin

April 20, 2016, 12:20 pm

What will it mean for security and quality updates if every manufacturer has such a complete different version of android. Why are Apple not also being subjected to this treatment because of their closed ecosystem?

andyvan

April 20, 2016, 1:13 pm

It all comes down to market share. Android's large market share makes it subject to antitrust regulations that don't affect Apple with its smaller market share. It's Microsoft and Windows all over again basically.

colfhax

April 20, 2016, 3:02 pm

Isnt this the pot calling the kettle black-- The EU is a group of 28 member countries ruled by a group of politicians allegedley funded by fat cat lobbyists in it for what they can get taking monies in and redistributing it in unfair ways dictating what businesses can and cant do and how they must produce in certain ways--they should be investigated for anti trust policies amongst other things

companies that choose to use android obviously have contracts with google to follow certain rules this is the only way that the inherent security issues with any digital media /comms system can be controlled google do a half decent job of removing insecure apps from the store and i have never had any security problems on any of my android devices These companies are allowed to apply their own interfaces to the basic operating system which can follow any designs they choose --doesnt always work well with android but at least allows some individuality
Having one search engine and one appstore for the basic android os makes an easy secure retail point for the conumer-the most important part of the process
should the consumer want to use other apps instead of googles they should be the ones to choose and there are many other options in the appstore

Now the conspiracy part The EU is a mess politically and financially anfd after June 23 could be losing one of its biggest financial contributers the Uk a result which could well open the doors for more member states to exit im sure fining a company like google 10% of global income would go a long way to ensuring these allegedly corrupt officials can continue their extravagant lifestyles

If companies dont like the rules they can always go to microsoft and make windows devices

🇦🇺Marshall

April 20, 2016, 3:04 pm

Charge #1: BS. Nothing is forced. Change it at will.

Charge #2: Also BS. Forked versions of Android are just as easy to install software onto. Google it.

Charge #3: So what? There's no gun to anyone's head here. It's called a business transaction.

Seriously. The EU needs to pull their head out and take a breath.

toboev

April 20, 2016, 4:17 pm

I guess also in Apple's case they are only selling their own product. They are not putting out an OS to other manufacturers and then attaching restrictive conditions about how it can be used and what has to be bundled with it.

toboev

April 20, 2016, 4:21 pm

How, for example, do you change #1? Chrome is burnt into ROM like any other bloatware and can not be removed. The best you can do is ignore it and pretend as best you can that it is not there. Google Search is the same. Even if you disable it and remove its search bar from your homescreen the space is not yielded to you, so you can not put anything in its place.

As to #3, you don't have to pull a gun to be the wrong side of the law. Paying others to distort the market is illegal.

colonense4life

April 20, 2016, 4:33 pm

I saw this one coming. blame mobile phone users, they wanted to follow the "trendy and fashionist" and that "android trend" now turned into a greedy monster. Yes, Windows all over again, thanks to you, zombie customers. apple is doing something similar, but users don't give a damn because "some" of their products are "trendy". personally I don't need to have every "trendy" social app, nor an S7 to "be someone", so I stick with windows phone, it has enough practicality for me.

andyvan

April 20, 2016, 4:34 pm

Yes.

I think the argument hinges on the Anti-Fragmentation Agreement. It means, in effect, that Samsung et al can't sell a normal Android phone and 'forked' Android phone. They have to choose one of the other, which is probably the EU's strongest accusation.

Kargone

April 20, 2016, 4:35 pm

The answer to all of you questions is exactly the same. It is OPEN SOURCE, if you don't want to use the google branded version then use the open source version. Problem solved.

toboev

April 20, 2016, 4:38 pm

No, that is not an answer. Capital letters won't make it so either.

John

April 20, 2016, 5:27 pm

At first I thought this would be a good move by the EU to protect consumers interests, but now it is evident that it is Google who is doing more to protect consumers.

I'm so disappointed in the EU. It looks like they are just trying to give their regional carriers more power to screw over the consumer.

John

April 20, 2016, 5:30 pm

"If companies dont like the rules they can always go to microsoft and make windows devices"

Yes. They can also just use AOSP.

It's absolutely insane that anyone complains about Google's control over android, when google gives away the AOSP.

Google makes it EASY for Nokia/Microsoft, Amazon, CyanogenMod, etc to build their own android. Google has intentionally made themselves vulnerable to competition - and STILL the EU is crying over nothing.

John

April 20, 2016, 5:32 pm

Yes. The EU move here looks to me like an anti-consumer move. It is the carriers and the manufacturers they should be going after - forcing them to open up their devices more, being more consumer friendly, making it easier for us to upgrade our own devices.

Personally, I'd prefer it if Google (like Apple) exerted _more_ control over the carriers and manufacturers, and forced them to keep their devices updated to the latest versions of android for longer periods of time.

curly4

April 20, 2016, 5:36 pm

How strange there is nothing said about iOS and Apple. If one gets an iOS devise one can only get apps approved by Apple and only through the Apple App Store.
There is no reason that the phone makers (other than Apple) cannot use any operating system they want to and then they could approve the apps that they allow on the phone.
It just seems to me that EU has it in for Google for some reason.

curly4

April 20, 2016, 5:38 pm

I use a Google sponsored phone and chose the apps that I WANT and delete those that I don't want.

Anthony a

April 20, 2016, 6:41 pm

Buy an Amazon Fire Phone. It is android OS without Chrome.

toboev

April 20, 2016, 8:07 pm

I think you just illustrated how Google stifles competition!

Anthony a

April 20, 2016, 8:09 pm

How? There's a competing version of Android without Chrome/Maps/Gmail. It has it's own app store, web browser, email client.

Also Fire tablets are pretty popular as well.

Cheez_Whiz

April 20, 2016, 8:15 pm

In the United States, innovation is rewarded.
In the European Union, innovation is seen as a threat to be squashed, or at least taxed.

Anthony a

April 20, 2016, 8:46 pm

So what would be the result of this?

Samsung gets to make a SamsungOS based on a forked Android that doens't have google play, maps, chrome?

toboev

April 20, 2016, 9:03 pm

Delete Chrome then.

toboev

April 20, 2016, 9:08 pm

The point you so ably made is that you can not buy the Android phone of your own choosing and not have Chrome preinstalled, permanently, on your phone. And since Android have such an overwhelming market share that behaviour becomes a problem restricting the ability of other
browsers to enter and succeed in the market.

In simple terms, Google controls the market space for mobile browsers (and search) and give their own products overwhelming preference in that market.

Anthony a

April 20, 2016, 9:14 pm

You can though. Amazon's phones run Android, which is why Amazons apps are able to be side loaded onto a Samsung or LG android phone. Amazon's phones don't have Chrome. Therefore if you buy an Amazon phone or tablet, you are buying an Android phone without Chrome.

If you want android without chrome, buy an amazon phone or tablet.

If you download an Amazon app, it's an .apk file which is short for android application package, which would be a weird name if amazon didn't run on android.

Also, if you make an app in android studio and build it, it's built as an APK, you can upload this app to Google Play, or Amazon's App Store.

GaryMG

April 20, 2016, 9:17 pm

Fantastic. Consumers and choice must come first. Android is great BUT google should not restrict its development by others. In the UK we are in the process on staying in or leaving the EU. This fight shows why we should stay in. Our own government would do nothing against the power of google, allowing them and others to get away with paying no tax here at all.

toboev

April 20, 2016, 9:44 pm

You're not getting this. I don't want a Fire Phone. I'm happy with my own choice of phone, thank you. And furthermore I don't want Google to restrict my choice of browser or search. Which they are doing by strangling the competition for Chrome and Google Search.
Companies must stick to making the product, not controlling the market.

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