It is time to end Google’s abuse of its Android monopoly
Google may actually believe it’s a force for good in the world. Most monopolists believe this about themselves. They believe everyone is better off by virtue of what they perceive as the benevolent use of their vast power.
Google may actually believe that it’s in consumers’ and app developers’ interests for it to dominate the mobile landscape. It may believe that it’s good for everyone that it sucks up data generated by and about consumers, and that it’s good that it has an unmatched ability to exploit that data in providing services for consumers. It may believe it’s best for app developers to have a uniform platform controlled by a single company (Google) upon which to launch their products.
But the truth is that throughout history, it’s competition, not monopoly, that has driven innovation, opportunities for smaller enterprises, and consumer benefits. Just as in every other field, this is true also in the mobile sphere.
It’s not good for consumers or smaller enterprises – who undoubtedly do benefit from the advent and growth of mobile markets – for such markets to be dominated by a single company. And it’s illegal for dominant companies to use their market power the way Google does in mobile markets.
Open up Android and enable innovation?
It would be better for consumers were Android genuinely to be an open operating system. Had Google kept its original promises to mobile device manufacturers about Android being open, manufacturers would have been able to compete and differentiate their devices by providing unique innovative functionality and services.
The European Commission says that Google’s bait and switch tactics with Android are anti-competitive and illegal. The Commission says it’s illegal for Google to exert excessive control over the Android marketplace, including by preventing device manufacturers and network operators from offering their own unique versions of Android devices.
It would be better for consumers were the European Commission to require Google to allow mobile device manufacturers to choose which apps to preload on their products. For example, it would be good for consumers to have a genuine choice of search engines. Google should not be allowed to require those who provide Google Play Store on their devices also to preload Google Search (and the Chrome browser).
Google should not be allowed to engage in conduct designed to ensure that Android devices have, in reality, only one app store – Google’s Play Store. App developers should not effectively be forced to sell their Android apps through a single store. App developers should have a variety of channels through which to distribute their products.
In short, Google’s conduct preserves its dominance in Android app stores, search engines and browsers — and suffocates innovation and the differentiation of Android devices.
Déjà vu all over again
Google’s restrictions have the same sort of anti-competitive consequences as those the European Commission required Microsoft to abandon. Ironically, Google was among the complainants against Microsoft for conduct very similar to actions Google itself currently undertakes. The Commission was right to pursue antitrust enforcement against Microsoft’s abuses, and consumers and developers benefited from the restoration of competition achieved by the Commission’s actions.
The only significant difference between the Commission’s antitrust enforcement against Microsoft and its enforcement against Google is that Google is more powerful than Microsoft ever was. It occupies a more central position in the economy and in people’s lives, and the exercises of its vast power cause more harm than Microsoft’s did. And the Commission’s enforcement of antitrust laws against Google will do more than any previous enforcement to foster innovation and provide choice to consumers.
Counsel to FairSearch
28 October 2016