No matter how many times you look at your calendar while reading this article, it will still not be April Fools Day. An anti-competitive complaint has been filed in the European Union against Google for bundling their Apps suite on Android smartphones. The companies leading the charge in this complaint are a host of rival companies, including names like Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle.
The Android OS, specifically the Android Open Source Project, is available to anyone willing to download and build it. You can “make” Android with a few very basic keystrokes. Granted, you need to optimize that build for the hardware you are running and will have to apply some proprietary software from the companies that make that hardware, but if your goal is to produce something that runs Android that’s all you need to do.
Now if you want to make something that runs Android and has access to Google’s apps — like the Play Store, Gmail, and Google Talk — you need to run that by Google. The team there will give you a compatibility suite you need to run to get approval, which is basically a series of tests that hardware need to pass in order to be granted access to Google’s apps. According to a group calling themselves Fairsearch Europe, Google is in violation of antitrust laws and they think the EU needs to do something about it.
Fairsearch Europe is a group comprised of several companies that all sound like obvious competitors to Google. The EU complaint PDF that was filed contains names like adMarketplace, KAYAK, Expedia, Oracle, Nokia, and Microsoft. This complaint isn’t the first the group has filed against Google, either. There’s an active investigation in the EU right now into Google’s search practices, particularly those that apply to shopping and travel. The group feels that Google gives themselves an unfair advantage in search results, though so far nothing has come of the investigation.
This new complaint is focused on how Google bundles its apps, and whether or not that is considered an unfair practice due to an imagined need to give the suite prominent default placement on an Android phone.
That’s “imagined” because anyone who has picked up an HTC or Samsung Android phone within the last two years would know that the initial setup of an Android phone made by those companies puts Google apps far in the background. Both HTC and Samsung offer their own email, chat, and social clients that they encourage users to sign up for in the initial setup process, and most users do. Google’s apps are only given default preferential treatment when the manufacturer and the carrier allow it. On Verizon Wireless, many Android phones now come pre-installed with the Amazon App Store as well as the Google Play Store, making it so you never even need to use Google products if you don’t want to. Ironically, the same can not be said of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8.
Microsoft’s involvement in this ads a particularly flavor of irony to the mix, given how many times they have been on the receiving end of anti-competitive complaints that the EU has acted on. The Windows XP SP1 Browser Ballot and Windows Media Player bundling complaints against Microsoft have each ended in significant fines for the company, so maybe they figured Google needed a taste of their medicine. The complaint accuses Google of offering Android below cost in order to disrupt the business of their competitors, while Microsoft themselves are in patent arrangements with most of the Android OEMs that net them as much as $5 per phone sold.
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