Here we go again. Another Android antitrust drumbeat. In April, the European Commission announced a formal investigation into Google’s Android operating system. This is not the first time antitrust allegations have been leveled at Android.
Let’s take a short trip back in time. In early 2014, a flurry of media reports emerged accusing Google of anticompetitive conduct surrounding its Android licensing arrangements. The reports cited industry insiders and experts who had “examined” contractual arrangements that surfaced through an unrelated court proceeding between Google and Oracle on intellectual property claims. Much of that early reporting was fueled by a detailed blog post and paper by longtime anti-Google “consultant” Ben Edelman which accused Google of leveraging its monopoly power through secret nefarious contractual arrangements with device manufacturers (most of which actually had nothing to do with the Android operating system itself). Unfortunately, much of the reporting (and much of Edelman’s analysis) turned out to be misleading or just plain wrong. Industry followers, open source experts and academics followed on to poke skyscraper-sized holes in the initial reporting. (I had my own take.)
FairSearch, an organization funded by Google’s competitors aimed at bringing regulatory scrutiny on the Mountain View company, used the Edelman claims as the basis for a complaint it filed in April 2013 with the European Commission — shortly after the original round of media coverage — claiming that Google’s below-cost distribution of Android (read: free, open source) was predatory pricing that made it difficult for Google’s competitors to compete. It also claimed that Google’s practice of offering its suite of mobile applications in a package instead of a la carte (via so called MADA agreements) foreclosed competition in mobile platforms and applications.
In short, the claims were laughable. The open source community cried foul, pointing out the dangerous implications such a precedent would set given that all open source software is available for free. Furthermore, commenters noted the irony of a group funded by proprietary software companies attacking the free distribution of open source software as “predatory.” Others pointed out that the MADA agreements are standard operating procedure for companies trying to build user friendly products and ensure that customers have an expected suite of services available to them “out of the box.” At best, I thought, these claims were a sideshow. A PR stunt orchestrated to keep Google’s PR and legal teams fighting on multiple fronts and that they would fade quickly.