What Google's Massive EU Fine Means For Android Users

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The European Union has slapped Google with a $6.8 billion fine, alleging that the tech giant has acted in an uncompetitive manner by pre-loading apps and its services, such as Google search and the Chrome browser, onto Android phones. But as the specifics of the complaint are being pored over, it’s not clear how this will affect the more than 2 billion people across the globe who use Google’s Android operating system every month.

At least in the short term, consumers won’t see many changes to the phones in their pockets. For one, the complaint gives Google 90 days to change its practices in Europe. Also, Google has said it will appeal the decision.

If Google is unsuccessful, then there could be some noticeable differences. On a small scale, this ruling could change what apps are installed when Europeans pick up a new phone from the store. What is installed by default is a big part of the EU’s complaint, which objects specifically to the automatic installation of the Chrome browser and Google’s Play store. (Google already gives people the option to download alternatives to many of its apps, but it may have to make this more explicit.)

The European Union said in a press release that 95 per cent of Android users use Google Search, indicating to regulators that the vast majority of people are not changing their settings.

When faced with antitrust charges before, Google has given people the option to choose between services while setting up their phones. An antitrust dispute in Russia, for example, prompted Google to change its design to offer people a choice of search engines when they set up their phones.

The hope is that unbundling Google’s apps from phones levels the playing field for competitors to get their foot in the door; or rather their app in front of new eyeballs. For consumers, that might mean having to seek out alternatives because there isn’t a default option. But, the EU’s argument goes, then they might find other products that suit their needs better.

That idea, however, threatens the very foundation of Android. Right now, Google’s Android software is “open,” or available to manufacturers free. At that price, it’s obviously cheaper for companies to choose Android than to develop their own system. Google reaps the benefits of those partnerships because its products, such as search, are baked into the software and used by millions.

Making its platform open to manufacturers, such as Samsung, Huawei and others, has given Android a sizable lead in the operating system race. Apart from Apple, no company has been able to develop an alternative to Android that competes with that dominance. Worldwide, Android is being used by nearly 80 per cent of mobile users, according to StatCounter, a web analytics firm.

Google would have to change a lot if it adopted a strategy, for example, more like Apple — which has a closed operating system — said Larry Downes, project director at the Georgetown Centre for Business and Public Policy. If it adopted that model, it would have to sell the Android operating system to smartphone makers upfront. That cost would probably be passed on to all consumers, he said.

“If they can’t rely on that as a source of money, they’ll have to charge for Android and all the software that Google makes,” Downes said.


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


Comments

    The fine is a joke. Apple does the exact same if not worse with their phones. Yet they have escaped the fine. Competitions can easily install their own apps. Or have the EU never heard of custom ROMs or root access? Did the EU ever think the reason why 95% use Google search us because they like it?

      Wrong. I suggest you actually read the ruling.

      http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-4581_en.htm

      And to those still harbouring the delusion that Google doesn’t control every aspect of Android ...

      “has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called “Android forks”).”

      Google is getting exactly what it deserves.

      the joke is that people think this is a new thing.

      it's the same law that Microsoft had to bow to 10 years ago. I know most millenials don't think history is real, but this is simply google being 'dumb' and knowing doing this would result in the same fines MS got for windows doing the same thing.

      EU law has stated for around 10 years that you have to give CHOICE to browsers and core apps. Google doesn't even try to do this for the same reason it LIES when it tells other browser users chrome is more secure and faster (but fails to mention it's slower an buggier and uses more memory)

      It's not that you CAN install a custom rom, it's that the average person has no choice BEFORE google decides what is the default.

      There's nothing ridiculous, nor new about this (unless you're under 30 and don't realise this has happened before, and will happen to anyone else who doesn't read the law and give people choice.

      The majority of Android users don't root their phone or flash a custom ROM. They just buy a new phone and use what comes preinstalled. The same reason why Internet Explorer/Edge still retains around 15% of the market share of desktop/laptop browsers.

      Still, I believe the most elegant solution for this is to offer OEM's a choice. Bundle the apps and get Android for free, don't bundle the apps and pay a licensing fee. If, what you say is true and people are using Google apps because they like them, then this would boost Googles profits as they technically get to double dip.

    What a ridiculous fine. Google has every right to appeal this.

    As @djbear mentions above, Apple does this much worse and gets away with it! At least Google give you the option to install alternatives to their pre-loaded apps, even if it's not made entirely explicit. Apple don't - you're stuck with what they give you! That just doesn't cover their software either, it also extends to their hardware. Remind me again why, despite a ruling several years ago that all new phones must use USB and not a proprietary connector, is Apple still allowed to use their proprietary connector?

    Going back even further, Microsoft has been bundling applications like Internet Explorer and now Edge with Windows for decades now. While there were complaints about that, I don't recall them ever copping a $6.8 billion fine for it.

    What a joke. I hope they are successful in their appeal because the whole thing is just stupid.

      Ah whitepointer, MS did cop a fine over it (why don't you use google search??) there is whole Wikipedia articles about it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Corp_v_Commission)

      Do any of the commenters on Lifehacker actually read real news or historical information? #sigh, reading comments on this site is scary, people are so misinformed.

      MS where the first company to have this. EU versions of windows ASK you what browser, music player and other software you want to use on your OS on Windows and Mac.

      The only thing that is ridiculous here is that Google thought they could get away with doing the same as MS and Apple and not get a fine.

        Ah dawesi, if you actually read my post properly, you'd see I specifically said "$6.8 billion fine". Yes, Microsoft copped a fine, but not for that amount of money, not even close even adjusting for inflation. $6.8 million is absurd.

        It's funny how you accuse me of not reading and then you don't read yourself.

      Apple doesn't license their software to other companies, so they're in a separate league.

      What's stupid about every report on this fine is that it focuses on the bundled apps. I agree that Google should be able to preload their apps onto their version of the AOSP, no complaints there. But the fact that, as a manufacturer, if you want to use Google Android on one of your devices, none of your other Android devices can have an AOSP fork is anticompetitive.

      Last edited 21/07/18 9:06 am

      So to clarify:

      Apple can 'get away' with this because it's a single platform under their control - and you can install alternatives to their apps. Nothing stops you using Gmail or Spotify - it just doesn't work as well as their defaults. They don't license out iOS to other manufacturers - it only ever appears on Apple hardware. Same goes for MacOS. They incidentally have a smaller market share.

      Microsoft didn't get away with this behaviour back in the 90s/early 2000s (remember the anti-trust lawsuit in the US?) and also ship EU-specific versions of later Windows releases (Windows N) that stripped out media players and Skype.

      The key difference between Apple and MS/Google is that Microsoft and Google license out their base OS to various OEMs, but bundle apps with them that allegedly push you into their apps or services, hypothetically discouraging you from using those included by the OEM. Yes, you're right that people don't use Samsung's apps (for example) because Google's are infinitely better, but it's still pushing people towards Google's services (especially their search engine) on over 80% of mobile devices. Whether you're happy for Google to have a near monopoly on internet services if they're good services is up to you, but from the EU's perspective it's a concern for competition.

      Apple, having nowhere near the same market share globally and not licensing out their operating system, aren't going to be subject to the same arguments, just like they aren't subject to the same arguments over Safari or iCloud being included on a new Mac. They aren't comparable.

    The EU Commission at it again on things they don't fully comprehend. I'd love for Google to pull all services from the EU for a month just to see the backpedalling that occurs.

      In this EU's mind, Its impossible for a majority of people to like and use something. The only reason 95% of people use google search on android is because they are "Forced" to and no such option to change your default search engine exists in the settings according to the EU.

        All Google needs to do is point out that if people didn't know how to use an app/search engine/whatever that they preferred over the default, Microsoft Edge would be the dominant browser in the world, which clearly isn't the case.
        They could also point out that Microsoft, who have already been in trouble for this, tries to force Edge down everyone's throat every chance they get. Try setting another browser as the default in Windows and the computer starts acting like a jealous friend with a crush on you...

          Not at all. First time i opened Chrome it asked me if i wanted to set chrome as the default browser. Windows 10 has not mentioned edge to me at all since the release of windows 10.

          Last edited 22/07/18 3:31 pm

      Read the report. They understand Google, and Android, far better than their apologists.

        Oh the irony of you calling others apologists. Hahahhaha. I wonder if you will remember this comment the next time there is an article about Apple.

    Manufacturers like Samsung, HTC etc. take the open-source OS and choose to put Play Store/Chrome in it. How is this Googles fault?

    Most people don't realise how this works.

    Android the base OS, is nowhere near as feature rich or even compatible with most apps. The Google Layer is what adds alot of the APIs that apps use and makes them work. Even for device features such as location, which should be local and easily runable.

    What this means is without the Google Playstore installed, apps generally don't work.

    to install the playstore you MUST install every google app, the assistant, backup, etc. Which means they immediately can harvest a huge amount of data.

    this is the key part that is anti-competitive. you can't possibly create an alternative, because nothing will work unless you install ALL Google apps.

    Last edited 23/07/18 12:33 pm

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