This week Google was hit with a massive fine by the European Union, totaling in €4.34 billion, or just over $5 billion US dollars.
From the European Commission Press release -
Today, mobile internet makes up more than half of global internet traffic. It has changed the lives of millions of Europeans. Our case is about three types of restrictions that Google has imposed on Android device manufacturers and network operators to ensure that traffic on Android devices goes to the Google search engine. In this way, Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine. These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.
Elaborating specific violations -
In particular, Google:
- 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
- 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").
Margrethe Vestager, the EU Commissioner for Competition tweeted -
This seems ludicrous to me, for several reasons. First, it is incredibly easy to remove the default browser and search application in Android, and to install one that is from a competitor. I don't see how this is anti-competitive at all. Google tweeted exactly how to do this shortly after this news broke. I understand this is from the company being fined, but it truly is this easy -
You could easily argue both ways on if Google is really truly "Open" with the Android operating system, but I think that it's difficult to make the argument that it isn't easy to replace those default apps, which are at the heart of this fine.
I'm not sure what Google is really supposed to do here. Are you supposed to ship Android with no browser or search installed? Does this mean that manufacterers can just install whatever browser they choose to? If manufacterers are allowed to bundle apps, I don't see how that would be any more legal in the EU than Google bundling the apps.
In general, I am not a very big Android fan, but I think this is an incredibly stupid decision by the EU, and is only going to hurt innovation. I'm all for regulations when necessary, and for enabling fair competition in business and in technology, but I fail to see how this accomplishes any of that.