The European Commission awarded Google a record $ 5 billion penalty on Wednesday for Android makers to bundle Google Search and their Chrome browser on Android smartphones sold in Europe. The Commission also alleged that Google prevented phone manufacturers from using a "forked" (alternative) version of Android and making payments to "certain large manufacturers and mobile operators" to avoid bundling competing apps on their phones.
In order to pay the fine, the Commission expects Google to cease these practices. In a blog post, Google boss Sundar Pichai defended his guidelines, arguing that "phones made by these companies are all different but have one thing in common" ̵
He added, "A typical phone is preloaded with up to 40 apps from multiple developers, not just the company you bought the phone. If you prefer other apps – or browsers or search engines – to pre-installed apps, you can simply disable or delete them, and instead choose other apps, including apps from some of the 1.6 million Europeans who earn their living as app developers. "
The case reminds me of the American and European actions against Microsoft in 1998. Similar to the case against Google, the US Department of Justice and European regulators have accused Microsoft of bundling Internet Explorer on all copies of Windows Year, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates told a Senate committee "the software industry … is an open economic opportunity for any entrepreneur in America."
Little did he know that a few months later, two such entrepreneurs, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, would And little did Brin and Page know that their company would someday be in the same position as Microsoft back then – a dominant leader at the crossroads of regulators and antitrust lawyers from both sides of the Atlantic.
It would be hard to imagine back then that Google's Internet technology would someday hit Microsoft and that it would have a browser Although Microsoft Internet Explorer (and now Microsoft Edge) was bundled on all copies of most of the world, popular operating system
was one reason why Chrome – as well as Firefox and other browsers – could gain market share That is, they could easily be downloaded and installed on any Windows or Mac computer for free.
As someone who recently bought a Windows 10 computer, the first thing I did when I started using the machine was Microsoft's new browser, Edge, and use it to download a copy of Chrome. Since then, I have seldom used Edge.
And it's even easier to download apps to smartphones. Apple, for example, is bundling its own mapping program on all iPhones and is no longer using Google Maps, but millions of iPhone users are choosing to download Google Maps.
Similarly, anyone with an Android device can download other browsers available for free from the Google App Store. That's right – Google's app store, which lets Apple download apps from competing developers.
It's arguable that using a bundled app is much easier than downloading a competing app. While that's true, it's not hard to download apps.
Twenty years ago, many people in the US and Europe did not enjoy downloading and installing software on a PC, but by 2018, Europeans and Americans in general are more tech savvy. Today's smartphone app stores are also easier to use than download sites in 1998.
I support the government's efforts to control tyrannies and prevent companies from unfairly targeting competitors. I suspect that there are some valid cases that could be brought against Google. I just do not buy the argument that Google is using its operating system to prevent other app developers from competing on the Android platform.
If someone brings out software that really works better than what Google offers, people will find out about it and start using it as long as Google continues to allow competitors to use their app store.
There is also the problem of fragmentation. So there are many complaints about too much variation in the user interface among Android phone manufacturers who decide which apps to offer and how users interact with the operating system.
I'm not suggesting that Google should allow manufacturers to define the user experience, but as someone who has tried phones from numerous companies, I think it's a problem. I also think that it gives Apple a competitive advantage because Apple controls the experience of iOS users.
I also do not think that the fine and restrictions on Google will have a big impact, even if Google loses its appeal. Although I'm sure that Google is not looking forward to writing this big check, this could easily happen without any noticeable impact on the bottom line. And even if Google's apps were unbundled from the devices, a lot of people would still download and install them. Maybe the market share for Chrome and Google Search would shrink a bit, but not much.
Windows makes Microsoft Bing its default search engine, but the vast majority of Windows users use Google for search. I'm pretty sure that even if the phone manufacturer had bundled a different browser, most Android users would go out of their way to use Google for the search.
Larry Magid is the CEO of ConnectSafely, a non-profit organization for internet security that receives support from Google and some of its competitors, including Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook.