nav search
Data Center Software Security Transformation DevOps Business Personal Tech Science Emergent Tech Bootnotes BOFH

back to article
Prof squints at Google's mobile monopoly defence, shakes head

"“Where would a phone maker get an alternative to Google’s location services? There isn’t one,” says Edelman."

A quick search of F-Droid (Open Source apps) finds alternatives

https://f-droid.org/repository/browse/?fdfilter=location&fdpage=2

Q: Why are the same criticisms not being directed at Apple ?

All Androids have a tick-box option to allow you to install from other sources, but Apple does not.

Android is the more open eco-system.

18
11
Silver badge
FAIL

Why do people keep whining about Apple?

Do you not understand the definition of the word "monopoly", and why Google qualifies while Apple most definitely does not?

17
14
Silver badge

Partial Order vs Total Order

"Android is the more open eco-system."

That's a false dichotomy. A system can be open in some respects and closed in others. I love developing for Android because of how open it is to me as a developer; Google doesn't care what technology I use, because Google doesn't make money off the hardware I buy.

But if I were a developer of location services, Android would seem very closed: Google's solution is baked in and there's no option for me to compete.

10
1
Bronze badge

Open source or open binary?

This is actually debatable. If you install the IOS development system you can compile and install any application for which you can obtain (or write) source code.

Effectively, if the source is open you can use it but if the source is not open you cannot do so. Apple's "closed" system says "If it did not come through us then compile it yourself - here are the tools to do so".

Apple does not need a tick box to allow "install from other sources" because can compile and install yourself. Mind you (I assume) you can do that with android too.

It would seem to me that the only way that Android is the more open ecosystem than IOS is that it permits the installation of binary blobs that have not been authenticated as to purpose in any way.

Which phone do you think the NSA would prefer you to be carrying?

0
0
Silver badge

Clarification please

The Fire Phone had a lot to be said for it. It had some real innovations, it was a perfectly promising device. However, without access to the Google Play Store, you couldn't install Facebook, or Uber, and many other apps.

Does that mean Facebook, Uber etc chose only to use Google Play and not to go to the expense of developing for an alternative, or does Google enforce this in some way? I've installed apps on my (bog standard, Nexus) phone without going through Google Play. It's a bit more fiddly, but not much. For me, the advantage of using Google Play is that the software is less likely to contain malware (whether deliberate or intentional). (Although I realise that, in the eyes of some users, anything emanating from Google is malware :)

As I understand it, this is different from the Apple ecosystem, where installing an app from any source other than Apple is (effectively, for most users) impossible.

18
0

Re: Clarification please

>does Google enforce this in some way?

The beauty of it (from Google's point of view) is that it doesn't need to: at this point the network effect* alone results in a practically unsurmountable competitive disadvantage for other app stores.

* i.e. the value of a product or service (to a user) gets higher the more other users there are (which happens because of the self-amplifying cycle of: more Google Play end users -> more apps distributed via Google Play -> more Google Play end users -> ... )

3
0
Thumb Up

Nice to see

the Prof's unadorned academic articles relying on content rather than bling to tell a story

14
0
Silver badge

Re: Nice to see

"Nice to see the Prof's unadorned academic articles relying on content rather than bling to tell a story"

Yes, it's almost like he has thought-through ideas, experience of the concepts involved, and the maturity to state a case without recourse to shouting, abuse or unfounded rhetoric.

This is the Internet. Has he got lost?

14
0
Silver badge
Coat

"The Fire Phone had a lot to be said for it. It had some real innovations, it was a perfectly promising device. However, without access to the Google Play Store, you couldn't install Facebook, or Uber, and many other apps."

Amazon's Fire Phone suddenly sounds a lot more appealing than it did before.

11
0
Anonymous Coward

Fire Phone

You haven't seen Amazon's half-arsed attempt to do mobile software...

3
0

Re: Re: Just another attempt

"However, without access to the Google Play Store, you couldn't install Facebook, or Uber, and many other apps."

He hadn't got his facts straight here. The Fire phone has Amazon's app store.

Amazon's app store does indeed have Facebook (though not Uber).

Any developer can list their apps in the Amazon store. It is a clunky and somewhat painful process - and you don't get many sales - but most major apps are there.

4
0
Silver badge

Yes, if any company is a prime example of a business which really needs protection from monopolies, it's Amazon.

0
0
Silver badge
FAIL

Maps, etc.

“Would the Android ecosystem truly be less reliable or trustworthy if some phones came with, say, Yahoo! Maps?” asks the professor.

Yes. Have you tried using Yahoo! Maps?

I'm of two minds about the anti-Google witch hunt taking place in Europe. On the one hand, I'm in favor of government action to check corporate overreach. On the other, it's a) not clear to me that Google's actions are actually harmful or b) that they can be considered monopolistic when it comes to smartphones. A previous article mentioned that the Android "monopoly" is in regard to licensable smart phone operating systems, a narrowly-defined category if ever there was one, and one seemingly created for the express purpose of chasing after Google. While it's true that Android is the only popular OS which falls into that category, smartphone purchasers are, in fact, free to buy iPhones (which many do), Windows Phones (which many don't, but they could), or, until recently, BlackBerrys running BlackBerry OS. The fact that Google have made the choice to decouple the OS from the hardware seems rather beside the point when it comes to establishing a monopoly, sort of like claiming that Oracle have a monopoly over databases which run on SPARC hardware--it's functionally true, but so what?

In response to this post, I await two things: a flurry of downvotes and zero substantive rebuttals.

15
11
Anonymous Coward

Re: Maps, etc.

In response to this post, I await two things: a flurry of downvotes and zero substantive rebuttals.

Why? It's worth having a good discussion about it, because it is indeed not a full black and white either/or situation.

I recall the exact same situation with Microsoft, so let's take your Yahoo Maps example and see where that becomes a problem.

At some point during the reign of Microsoft we discovered that innovation had effectively all but stopped in the market as there was no incentive to develop alternatives or improvements to Microsoft services. Anyone coming up with a bright idea would either be 1 - competed against with a free product (Netscape), 2 - have their IP stolen (Stack), 3 - be bought out before they got too much traction. As a matter of fact, as far as I know, plenty of those tactics are STILL in play. That's why you now only get hardware with UEFI instead of a BIOS (yes, you can enable it for Linux, but it's never a default and you sometimes have to jump through quite a few hoops which at times involve accepting the Microsoft license before you even get access to the tools for it). Also, OEMs are still financially pressured to avoid installing any alternatives like Linux on first start (it's an interesting abuse of the word "discount").

Going back to Yahoo Maps: what incentive is there to develop a better product when there is a free replacement, paid for with the sale of personal details grabbed through the application stack? I leave out the fact that a small operator cannot get away with as blatant an ignoring of law as the big players can - just the fact that you're in every which way are tied to sponsoring the Google empire is a repeat of what Microsoft has been doing, and the results will eventually be the same too.

That's my own reading of the situation: deja moo (heard this bullshit all before).

13
1
Silver badge
Go

Re: Maps, etc.

"Going back to Yahoo Maps: what incentive is there to develop a better product when there is a free replacement, paid for with the sale of personal details grabbed through the application stack?"

That may be true for Android--that there is no incentive to develop a better Maps product, but Apple and Microsoft have certainly tried to develop their own mapping systems (Apple's continues to blow goats, but that's another story) for use on their own platforms, which is really the heart of my point: even if Android itself has no effective combination in the field of licensable operating systems, there are certainly other successful smartphone platforms. Google is trying to control the Android stack, that much is undeniable, so the question is whether that control is ultimately harmful to such an extent that it is illegal, not just an annoyance to various and sundry fanbois, commentards, and Andrew Orlowski. I'm unconvinced that it is. Presumably, a world without Google would contain multiple competing ad brokers (which it does, and Facebook is trying to acquire some of Google's market share), licensable smartphone operating systems (I'm unconvinced that this is even a valid category to be concerned about), and assorted services (which exist already--there's nothing provided in the Google binary blob that can't be very easily replaced by something else).

There's a whole other discussion to be had that has relatively little to do with Google's supposed abuse of monopoly status, which is their data grabbing, and the answer is actually pretty simple: don't use Google. Buy an iPhone or Lumia instead of an Android. Don't use the Google suite of Web/cloud applications. Sell your ads through another network (although they're all fucking evil, anyway, so it's only a question of degree). Change may require some amount of personal effort, which I understand people don't like, but the options exist.

Tradition demands that someone come along and accuse me of shilling for Google. Let me assure you that I receive no compensation, direct or indirect, from Alphabet or any of its subsidiaries. I do happen to like Android better than iOS (I'm one of those crazy bastards who runs Cyanogenmod nightly builds), and my experience with the Google suite of applications has been superior, for the price, to anything else I've used. If it weren't, I would pack up my data and go elsewhere. And that really is an option--there's no Google service that I couldn't get from another provider, so where's the monopoly?

The final argument I anticipate is that, having left Google's services, I would leave them with all my data. Now, I do know a number of people who work there, one of them very senior, and I am assured that, in fact, when you press the button to delete all your stuff from Google, it's gone. It may, in some sense, still exist in the form of backups, but the live data set available to data analysis is toast, and recovery in the event that you say, "Oops, I didn't want to do that," is non-trivial. So I'm told, and I trust this person's veracity and knowledge about the inner technical workings of the account deletion process.

In short, if you take issue with Google's corporate behavior, you actually do have options. If you choose not to exercise those options, whose fault is that?

7
2
Silver badge

Re: Maps, etc.

"zero substantive rebuttals."

The case was stated in the article based on someone who's actually read some of the licensees' contracts. I look forward to reading your substantive rebuttal of that.

8
5
Silver badge

Re: Maps, etc.

"Google is trying to control the Android stack, that much is undeniable, so the question is whether that control is ultimately harmful to such an extent that it is illegal"

And determining whether it's illegal is the outcome of legal processes such as that which the EU is launching. If they're doing that they must have a basis for believing it to be so and the present article presents informed opinion that supports such belief.

As you say, it's a question. Don't you agree that it should be answered by the appropriate mechanism?

6
1
Silver badge

Re: Maps, etc.

"I look forward to reading your substantive rebuttal of that."

Fair enough. Edelman makes the point that "the MADAs [Mobile Application Distribution Agreements] appear to be intended to push Google's own businesses and prevent competitors from getting traction." I'll accept his argument that these deals limit the ability of competitors to compete as effectively as possible. I would argue, however, that they are not substantially different from a number of other business deals and partnerships wherein some partners are granted preferential treatment. The EC court may see it differently, however; IANAL, so I'm willing to accept that I'm wrong, at least from a legal perspective.

What Edelman leaves out (or chooses not to address) is the accusation of having monopoly power. Many people have made a comparison to Microsoft, but Microsoft had already been determined to be a monopoly, which was then used to convict them of abusing monopoly power. I see this case as being different, in that Google has demonstrable competition. Now, it may the case that the effective tying behavior described in the MADAs is sufficient for Google to be convicted, and that having monopoly power would simply multiply the criminal judgment; I'm not sure. However, The Register's article specifically calls out Google for monopoly abuse, and that's where I think overreach is occurring. To me, it sounds as though the EC has created a box that they can put Google into and are saying, "Hey look, you fit in this box and are therefore . . . a witch!"

7
3
Silver badge
Thumb Up

Re: Maps, etc.

"Don't you agree that it should be answered by the appropriate mechanism?"

Absolutely. What I take issue with is the tone of this and other Register articles along with associated commentardery (yes, it's a word) wherein the correct outcome is already deemed a foregone conclusion and that the EC should just move straight onto the billion-dollar penalty phase.

3
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Maps, etc.

My suspicion is that the box the EC has put Google into actually has a second label underneath the "Monopoly abuse" label that reads "Tax avoider"...

0
0
LDS
Silver badge

"Microsoft had already been determined to be a monopoly"

Yes, determined exactly the same way the EU is going to demonstrate Google Android is a monopoly. Or do you mean MS was a monopoly just because it was MS? While Google is not just because it is named Google and not MS, despite acting the same way?

MS too had "demonstrable competition" back then, if you wish... just being in a "dominant position" and abusing it means you work actively in crippling any competition using your sheer size, regardless of your company name...

3
2
Silver badge

@ Throatwarbler Mangrobe

" A previous article mentioned that the Android "monopoly" is in regard to licensable smart phone operating systems, a narrowly-defined category if ever there was one, and one seemingly created for the express purpose of chasing after Google. "

I don't know where you picked that up from -- the IDC are reporting that Android has a market share of 70% of all smartphones in Western Europe. (Source: Bloomberg)

While the Android/iOS/Windows Phone split might not be as extreme as the Windows/MacOS/Linux split at the turn of the century, the parallels are striking. Windows got its dominance through the ability of limitless OEMs to market PCs, leading to a competition between OEMs on price, lots of marketing paid for by others, as well as multiple OEMs meaning more ready supply of devices. Microsoft used that dominance to squelch competition in various parts of the application space.

This is almost exactly the same.

5
1
Silver badge

Re: Maps, etc.

My suspicion is that the box the EC has put Google into actually has a second label underneath the "Monopoly abuse" label that reads "Tax avoider"

Good. You see, that's the problem with aggressive tax minimalisation techniques - you attract a lot of attention to yourself and the authorities will start looking closely at everything you do which means you'd best make sure you're squeaky clean elsewhere. Google have clearly started doing some Microsoft style OEM license techniques and it is now likely to bite them on the butt.

3
0

Re: Maps, etc.

My iPad, Samsuing, and Ubuntu phones all use HERE maps. The 'buntu one came with it.

It's jolly good, and so is the phone. Got the same problem with an app desert that Window,s Blackberry, and Firefox had, but the ubuntu phone and tablet are first rate, and HERE maps is impressive.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: "Microsoft had already been determined to be a monopoly"

Not quite. Microsoft was first declared a monopoly in the US.

And that made it very simple to declare Microsoft a monopoly in the EU - as they were already declared one.

0
0

Many of the accusations made against Google could equally be made against Apple. Can I set Chrome as my default browser on an iPhone?

5
3

That's irrelevant because iPhone and iOS don't have dominant market share. Dominant players in markets need to tread much more carefully so they can't be accused of (unfairly) leveraging their dominant position to enter or become dominant in another.

6
1
Silver badge

Google is described as having a monopoly in "licensable smartphone operating systems." Using an equivalent criterion of, let's say, "non-licensable smartphone operating systems," Apple actually is just as much of a monopoly as Google. What other dominant non-licensable smartphone operating systems are out there that have even a hill of beans for market share? Remember, since Google fall into a whole separate category of smartphone OS providers, it can't be considered competition for Apple, so Apple holds a de facto monopoly in their market segment. Therefore, if Apple excludes competitive mapping applications such as Google Maps or competitive browsers such as Firefox, it must, applying the exact same logic being used in the case of Google, be the case that Apple is guilty of discriminatory behavior, having the exact same effect in the iOS world as Google's MADAs are held to have in the Android world. The only difference is that Apple contracts the manufacture of iPhones solely to Foxconn rather than licensing the OS to a variety of manufacturers. Apparently, that step somehow renders Google an evil, abusive monopolist and Apple a paragon of moral rectitude.

5
1
Silver badge

"Apparently, that step somehow renders Google an evil, abusive monopolist and Apple a paragon of moral rectitude."

Um.... I don't recall anyone (aside from the usual fanboi parade) labeling Apple a paragon of moral rectitude. Apple's draconian EULAs, arbitrary position on refunds and warranty, and dodgy tax affairs have all been questioned by the EU too (to the point that the iTunes EULA was ruled unenforceable in a German court). That's a big reason why the iPhone is a UK/US phenomenon and is very much more of a bit player throughout the rest of the continent; Apple doesn't like the EU's regulatory environment and doesn't focus it's efforts there to anything like the extent you'd expect it to for a rich region with nearly a billion people in it.

As to Google... yeah, Android's market dominance is being leveraged as a monopoly to promote other Google services in an anti-competitive manner. That's not really in doubt. The internal emails make it pretty clear that Google's Android strategy is explicitly based on doing this, in a manner that is very reminiscent of MS in the desktop space in the 90s.

0
0
Silver badge

The story seems to be a bit confused about the difference between Android and Google Apps. Android is open source, while Google Apps are proprietary. If you want Google Apps, you have to license them and pay Google for them.

The phrase about "using compatibility as a club" was with respect to licensing Google Apps. Google requires the OEMs to either license all of them or none of them, not attempt to do a mix and match with third party stuff. Google wants to be able to assume that if one of their apps is present then the rest are, so they can interact with each other.

There's an additional complication in that the mobile carriers are another party involved with this as well. The OEM's' contracts with the carriers typically specify that Google Apps come pre-loaded on the Android phones. Google's all-or-nothing approach to licensing their proprietary apps means that the OEM can't do a mix-and-match and still call the phone an "Android" phone.

As for Amazon not having Facebook, Uber, and other third party apps, Blackberry and Microsoft ran into the same problems with their phones. A lot of companies can't be bothered with publishing apps for anything other than the two major platforms (genuine Android, and Apple). This has nothing to do with Google any more than it's Microsoft's fault that Adobe can't be bothered to port their major software products to GNU/Linux.

Neither the article author nor the EU have come up with any solid proposals as to how their idea of a mix-and-match phone would actually work. If the OEM installs some other incompatible location service, how is the app store supposed to work? What do you do, let the user download and pay for location dependent apps which then don't work? I'm sure that would go over well with users. Or do you bar those phones from using the Google app store? I'm sure the EU commission would complain about that as well.

10
0

Some of those "middle ware" items that Google conveniently bundles into GMS have third party options. Samsung has built many similar services, as has Amazon some others and HERE yet others. Google, as custodian of a truly open Android would facilitate and publish APIs. They'd also be well positioned to provide their own (reference) implementations, but because the process is open, so could anyone else. It could be similar to Java's Community Process. Currently Google is the sole decider of the Android platform's future and dumps new releases.

3
0
Silver badge

"Neither the article author nor the EU have come up with any solid proposals as to how their idea of a mix-and-match phone would actually work."

If the finding goes against Google that's Google's problem. But one solution seems clear enough from reading the article - remove the restrictive terms on licensing the APIs.

3
1
Anonymous Coward

ANd yet if Oracle win their case and APIs are found to be copyrighted then most of this becomes a moot point as you would have to force a company to give up their copyrights to allow interoperability.

0
0
Silver badge
Headmaster

The Fire Phone flopped in the famously fair but fickle marketplace

You don't fucking say.

1
0
Bub

Re: The Fire Phone flopped in the famously fair but fickle marketplace

The Fire Phone did- but the Kindle Fire most definitely didn't, and continues to flourish as a non-Google Android implementation with its own app store. Worth a mention surely.

4
0

Re: The Fire Phone flopped in the famously fair but fickle marketplace

Yeah, interestingly the main differentiator between the phone and the tablet was the price; the Fire Phone was horrendously overpriced. Do we need any other reasons for its failure? The tablet sold well and is relatively cheap, despite a lack of Googley ecosystem.

3
0
Silver badge

The problem I have with the Google way of doing things is that I can't choose to not have the Google apps/services installed. I want to uninstall the Youtube App or the Google+ app or even Chrome to save space on my device. I can't. They are forced on me. I don't use them. I use other browsers. If I want Youtube I can always use the browser interface. Google forcing maunfacturers to include all of these services and not providing (for example) the "Play Store" as a separate service is the core of the issue. If I don't want to use the "Play Store" App, why can't I use a Browser to access "https://play.google.com/store" and then download the particular application I want?

I have an android tablet that I use to lookup reference items on-site. I don't want location services on it (I have a GPS and mobile phone that will provide that). I can turn off location services but I can't remove them. I would rather free up the limited storage by uninstalling these google properties that I am never going to use.

Google is using its "monopoly" position to force these unwanted services/apps on us and we can't avoid them.

BTW Apple is no better except that they don't claim to be "Free" and "Open".

11
3

The more Google take back into the basic system the better

Then Manufacturers can be told to either sale pure Android or add their own UI etc as they want. Google can then deliver what many want, quick updates like the Nexus phones get or as many complain about actually get updates.

This can be sorted if as it looks like may happen ChromeOS and Android are combined into one mobile and desktop system and phone makers told to use certain chip specs for compatibility or write their own OS.

They can then hand Android over to the ASOP group and it becomes another open source OS without any Google play store, maps, location services etc.

Google will then go on to dominate the non Windows market and fluffy bunnies will rule the world . . .

0
0
Silver badge

Re: The more Google take back into the basic system the better

AOSP already is "without the google play store, maps, location services etc".

0
0
Holmes

"That’s a stark reminder that Google is primarily in the data-collection business."

All mobile industry is...

Google stronghold should be in data-analysis.

0
0
Silver badge

Did anyone else just burst out laughing....

Upon reading "The Android brand means trust, and that requires healthy phones"?

Android has a lot of good things going for it. A healthy, secure, trustworthy ecosystem is not one of them.

2
0

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

The Register - Independent news and views for the tech community. Part of Situation Publishing