In the wake of the European Commission (EC) filing formal objections against Android and the “abuse” of its dominant position in Europe, Google has wasted little time in posting its own response.
To recap, Europe’s commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, held a press conference today to confirm that the EC has requested a formal response from Google over claims that it “provides financial incentive” for manufacturers to pre-install certain Google apps, thus preventing phone makers from exploring alternative search engines. “Google’s behavior has harmed consumers by stifling competition,” said Vestager.
Now, Google has responded by saying that Android’s “model of open innovation” benefits both manufacturers and consumers.
“The European Commission has been investigating our approach, and today issued a Statement of Objections, raising questions about its impact on competition,” said Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel at Google, in a blog post. “We take these concerns seriously, but we also believe that our business model keeps manufacturers’ costs low and their flexibility high, while giving consumers unprecedented control of their mobile devices.”
As it has done in the past — when facing similar charges in Russia, for example — Google maintains that its partner agreements are “entirely voluntary.”
Anyone can use Android without Google. Try it — you can download the entire operating system for free, modify it how you want, and build a phone. And major companies like Amazon do just that.
Manufacturers who want to participate in the Android ecosystem commit to test and certify that their devices will support Android apps. Without this system, apps wouldn’t work from one Android device to the next. Imagine how frustrating it would be if an app you downloaded on one Android phone didn’t also work on your replacement Android phone from the same manufacturer.”
This is, of course, true. But relating to the specific charges filed by the EC, which is more about forcing manufacturers to install all Google apps, such as Google Play, Google Search, and Google Chrome, rather than being able to cherry-pick individual ones, Google added:
Any manufacturer can then choose to load the suite of Google apps to their device and freely add other apps as well. For example, phones today come loaded with scores of pre-installed apps (from Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google, mobile carriers, and more).
But importantly, most Android phones don’t come pre-loaded with services that compete with Google’s bread and butter, such as independent app stores, browsers, or search engines. And the ones that do, such as Amazon’s Fire-branded devices, don’t benefit from access to Google’s myriad popular services.
It does help if we look at the bigger picture. Google maintains Android and provides it for free, something that would be difficult for many smaller phone makers to achieve themselves. And in its formal response today, Google hints at its monetization mechanisms, though it stops short of explaining exactly how it negotiates with manufacturers.
Of course while Android is free for manufacturers to use, it’s costly to develop, improve, keep secure, and defend against patent suits. We provide Android for free, and offset our costs through the revenue we generate on our Google apps and services we distribute via Android.
It is true that anyone can download competing apps, such as Spotify, which goes up against Google Play Music; Here Maps, which goes up against Google Maps; and Firefox, which goes up against Chrome. But the crux of the complaint against Google and Android is to do with the pre-installation, as well as requirements that manufacturers set the default search engine to Google Search out of the box.
“Our partner agreements have helped foster a remarkable — and, importantly, sustainable — ecosystem, based on open-source software and open innovation,” added Walker. “We look forward to working with the European Commission to demonstrate the careful way we’ve designed the Android model in a way that’s good for competition and for consumers.”
Earlier today, Vestager said that Google has three months to formally respond and that the Commission was open to discussions with both Google and its parent company, Alphabet.