Google has been hit by a new lawsuit, this time targeting the Play Store for being competitive and monopolistic. Some experts say that Google wants a “steep hill to climb” to fight this battle, and instead of trying to “point the finger at others”, it must begin to prove that it is worth it.
Last week, the New York Attorney General and a coalition of 37 public prosecutors general sued Google over a lawsuit alleging that the Play Store has an unfair grip on app distribution on Android, and that Google opposes the use of third-party app stores. It also claims that Google puts its own apps ahead of the competition by giving them prominent ranking on the best Android phones as pre-loaded apps.
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“Through its illegal behavior, the company has made hundreds of millions of Android users turn to Google, and Google alone, for the millions of applications they can choose to download to their phones and tablets,” Letitia James, New York Attorney General , said in a statement. “Worse, Google is pushing the lifeblood out of millions of small businesses just looking to compete.”
While many experts say the lawsuit is very similar to the Epic Games lawsuit against Apple, which makes similar claims, Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, an antimonopoly think tank, said in an interview that, unlike this lawsuit, this is the case is probably easier to fight in court.
“It’s very similar to Apple. But the complaint involves some agreements that were imposed by third parties such as phone manufacturers,” she said.
“It’s easier to follow competitive behavior when there’s a deal as opposed to when it’s just Apple doing things one-sidedly alone; it’s usually a more difficult matter,” Hubbard said.
And while Epic Games is in the middle of a battle with Apple, it also sued Google for antitrust violations. In that lawsuit, Epic Games claimed that Google forced the phone maker OnePlus to break a deal that would have seen a special Fortnite launcher pre-installed on OnePlus phones.
According to the lawsuit documents: “Google was” particularly concerned that the Epic Games app could potentially install and update multiple games with a silent installation outside the Google Play Store. “Furthermore, any waiver of Google’s restrictions will be ‘rejected due to the Epic Games app acting as a potential portfolio of games and game updates.’ “
Hubbard, whose work focuses on Big Tech, explained that unlike Apple, Google licenses the entire operating system to third-party companies, and “no phone maker can sell their phones without the Android operating system, without the Google Play Store and so therefore, they must accept the terms and conditions. Google hangs up. “
Google has much stricter control over OEMs than it has ever done
She said that this case is completely comparable to the US vs. Microsoft, where the US government accused Microsoft of illegally maintaining its monopoly in the PC market due to the restrictions it allowed manufacturers and users to uninstall Internet Explorer and use other programs such as Netscape. and Java.
“Telephone manufacturers have no bargaining power or ability to do anything other than what the monopolist asks them to do,” she said.
Neil Shah, vice president of research at Counterpoint Research, said in an interview that because there is an app store duopoly – iOS and Android, which have almost similar payment and revenue structure for app developers – the story must be balanced. This means that if Apple is accused of monopolistic behavior, Google also deserves to be hit, he said.
The problem for developers is that Google has integrated the platform so extensively that it is “becoming increasingly difficult for OEMS and developers to bypass Google, since it has built a platform that is now much better and better only when integrated with Google services.”
In his defense, Google’s senior director of public policy, Wilson White, wrote in a blog post that the lawsuit claims that the company offers no alternative but to use Google Play, which is not accurate.
“Choice has always been a core owner of Android,” White wrote. “In fact, most Android devices come with two or more app stores preloaded. And popular Android devices like the Amazon Fire tablet at home are preloaded with a competitive app store and no Google Play Store.”
Google also noted that the company provides more “transparency and choice than others,” adding that the Play Store is different from other app stores and “does not impose the same restrictions as other mobile operating systems do.”
But despite that, the lawsuit states that Android is the “only viable operating system available for licensing mobile device manufacturers and selling its devices to US customers.” It noted that Google, “which controls approximately 99% of this market,” has lasting monopoly power in the market and significant influence over mobile device manufacturers and Android app developers. “
It also adds that the Play Store distributes over 90% of all Android apps in the US, and that “no competing Android app store has more than 5% of the market.”
In 2020, Google Play users worldwide downloaded 108.5 mobile apps, up from 76 billion apps in 2018, according to Statista. Data shows that the Play Store “generates significantly more downloads than the Apple App Store, as it is available for a wider range of devices than Apple’s closed iOS ecosystem, which is only available for Apple devices.”
Find more statistics at Statista
Carl Szabo, vice president and attorney general of NetChoice, an industry group with founders such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, said these lawsuits are invalid.
“It’s very interesting that this is being brought against the Google App Store when the case is potentially one of the weakest, and that’s because the Android operating system allows page loading,” he said. “Each Android device has two or more app stores pre-installed when you get the device. And there are examples of Android-based devices that do not even have the App Store in the Play Store at all.”
Szabo, who worked for former FTC commissioner Orson Swindle, added that the lawsuit calls into question what is allegedly true, and notes that they do not agree.
He said that in the case of Epic Games, as soon as the referee dismisses the case, the same will happen with this lawsuit with the Google Play Store.
“State attorneys want little or no legs to stand on,” he said.
Google needs to change its approach
Carmi Levy, a technology analyst, said Google should stop “trying to point the finger at others” and instead focus on telling the story of its own business practices.
“It must somehow prove that, despite the accusations, the model offers its greater opportunity than optional despair in the face of Google’s often much less competition, that the rules are not draconian at all, and rather designed to create opportunities and encourage innovation among all players, “he said. “It’s a steep hill to climb, and in the current climate I doubt Google’s lawyers will find much sympathy in open court given evidence to the contrary.”
He said that the entire app store’s ecosystem is at stake and how much power Google deserves to have as it balances its own profitability and growth against accusations.
“And while this particular case zeroes in on Google, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the shadow does not extend to Apple, too. In fact, the entire app store economy will potentially be put to the test here, for the precedent set here will ultimately impact on Apple’s platform, too, he said.
Levy agreed with Hubbard and noted that Google, unlike Apple, has benefited from the fact that it built the platform in the first place and continues to set and enforce the rules.
“When your only choice is to distribute your digital goods through an app store, you have no voice if the company that runs that app store decides to play hardball,” he said.
He added that the timing of this lawsuit is not coincidental, as several lawmakers around the world are investigating Big Tech. And while no one can predict the outcome of this particular lawsuit, Levy says that “Google is no different than any technology company on the wrong side of an antitrust charge: it disagrees with the allegations, will strongly defend them and will spend as much time, money and energy as possible to prove his case. “
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