Those of us with a few grey hairs will remember the “browser war” of the early 2000s. Back then, Netscape Navigator ruled the roost until Microsoft decided that Internet Explorer was the way to go and bundled it on every PC. Microsoft used its market power, Netscape disappeared and then Microsoft ended up losing an antitrust lawsuit.
Yesterday, history repeated itself with Google being fined €4.34 billion (AUD$6.9B) for abusing its position in the smartphone market to increase the dominance of its search engine. And while that sucks for Google, it’s good news for us.
- has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google’s app store (the Play Store);
- made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and
- 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 has 90 days to comply with the ruling or it risks further fines of up to 5% of the average daily global turnover of Alphabet, its parent company.
The EU commission noted that this wasn’t Google’s first anti-trust problem with the company paying €2.42B in 2017 for abusing its dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to Google’s own comparison shopping service.
Given Apple’s hold over iOS, I expect it’s looking at this ruling carefully and considering whether it will need to relinquish its hold over iPhone and iPad users with Safari. Although you can install alternate browsers on iOS, it’s not possible to make an alternative browser, or any non-Apple app, the default for a specific action.
Unless Google appeals this ruling, we should expect a patch to the Marshmallow, Nougat and Pie to remedy this. And Android Q will likely get a few tweaks to integrate the results of this ruling.
Antitrust cases are important for consumers as they help protect us from large companies that stymie innovation and make it hard for us to make choices about what software we’d prefer to use. I prefer to use Google Maps and like both Chrome and Edge more on my iOS devices but I can’t set those as my preferred applications.
Hopefully, this decision will help change the behaviour of other software makers.