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Russia to Google: Change anticompetitive Android contracts or pay fines


The Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) has asked Google to change its contracts with handset vendors by 18 November, or face fines up to 15 percent of its revenues from pre installed apps in Russia in 2014, reports Cnet. According to the agency, Google is abusing its dominant position in the Russian market by having a contractual requirement for device makers to install Google apps.

The FAS had decided in September that Google was breaching competition rules following a complaint by Russian search service Yandex. Yandex currently offers its own version of Android with apps that replace those offered by Google. However, the company reported that device makers had been pressurised by Google to not support its offerings.

Note that while Android is free and open source for developers to use and distribute, Google places atrocious conditions on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to ensure that they do not fork from Google offered Android. A leaked document at Ars Technica last year revealed that Google requires OEMs to include all its apps or none at all. Additionally, the agreement places a company-wide ban on Android forks, forbidding OEMs from taking “any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android” and disallowing distributing or encouraging a third party to distribute “a software development kit derived from Android.”

The “Mobile Application Distribution Agreement” (MADA), might have been modified since then, as the copy received by Ars was dated prior to the release of Android 3.0. Still, the document is indicative of the lengths Google goes to maintain its control over Android and the content distributed over it. Essentially, with such an agreement, any OEM that distributes phones with Yandex’s services, would have to stop making other Android phones that integrate Google’s services.

MediaNama’s take: While Google has a legit case to make for Android fragmentation, its conditions on OEMs come across as straight out bullying. The company already dominates the Android platform and its conditions ensure that it furthers its own competing services in a manner that it disadvantages others. It essentially prevents OEMs from bundling their or competing services, or forking Android, if they want to continue to provide any Google services (including Google Play) by default. In a volatile market, where the number of apps on the app store determine how likely a user is to use the platform, this practice severely cripples competition offering its own services or forking Android in a way Google does not like.

Therefore, there is a case for forcing Google to separate their search business, Android business and content/service business from each other, and for it to treat all businesses on its platforms as equal clients with equal opportunities. This shouldn’t be difficult now that Google has split into many companies under Alphabet.

US antitrust case: Just last month, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had allegedly begun investigations into Android, and started meeting representatives that said Google gave priority to its own services on the mobile platform, while restricting competition.

EU Android investigation: Similarly, in April, the European Commission opened formal proceedings against Google to investigate the if the company had illegally hindered the development and market access of rival mobile OSes, apps and services in the European Economic Area. These proceedings would involve investigating Google’s requirement of manufacturers to exclusively install its own apps, the company preventing the marketing of modified and potentially competing versions of Android and the bundling of certain Google apps and services. Note that these proceedings are separate from the Commission investigation into Google’s behaviour in internet search.

CCI charges in India: While the report from the Competition Commission of India investigating Google in India hasn’t yet been made public, the CCI has charged Google at least on two counts: That Google’s proprietary content supersedes the relevance of search by an individual and that Sponsored links thrown up after a search are dependent purely on the amount of advertising paid to Google.

Also read: On CCI on Google: the problem is when an intermediary also provides content & services

Image source: Flickr user Family O’Abé

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