According to legal documents cited by Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman, Android handset makers who wish to carry any of Google's apps, such as YouTube or Maps, must carry all of them. They must also make those apps prominent as dictated by Google and set them as the default app in some cases.
The restrictions specified in the contract relate to apps and services provided by Google, including the Google Play app and store, and not to the base operating system itself. The Android Open Source Project is licensed under other, much more open agreements.
Edelman obtained Google's Mobile Application Distribution Agreement (MADA) from the public record of the Oracle America v. Google litigation. In those trials the Samsung MADA and HTC MADA were admitted into evidence. The documents are marked "HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL - ATTORNEY'S EYES ONLY" but were admitted in open court and are available from the clerk.
Edelman cites five "key provisions of the MADA:"
- "Devices may only be distributed if all Google Applications [listed elsewhere in the agreement] ... are pre-installed on the Device." (MADA section 2.1)
- "Unless otherwise approved by Google in writing ... Company will preload all Google Applications approved in the applicable Territory ... on each device." (MADA section 3.4(1))
- "Google Phone-top Search and the Android Market Client icon must be placed at least on the panel immediately adjacent to the Default Home Screen; ... all other Google Applications will be placed no more than one level below the Phone Top" (MADA Section 3.4(2)-(3))
- "Google Phone-top Search must be set as the default search provider for all Web search access points on the Device." (MADA Section 3.4(4))
- Google's Network Location Provider service must be preloaded and the default. (MADA Section 3.8(c) — exceptions are provided for territories where Google NLP service is inadequate)
Edelman has been writing about Internet privacy issues for many years but, as he himself notes in his blog, he has some conflicts of interest. His disclosure: "I serve as a consultant to various companies that compete with Google. That work is ongoing and covers varied subjects, most commonly advertising fraud. I write on my own — not at the suggestion or request of any client, without approval or payment from any client."
Edelman continues with his interpretation of the legal and market implications of the document. He argues that the provisions tying Google's apps together help Google to expand into new markets and to keep competition out. For instance, it prevents a handset company from making a separate deal with another search engine or location service in exchange for top placement of them. It might give a Google app more prominence than another market leader. The handset company can choose to include other apps, but if they are sufficiently buried then they may seem like clutter to the user.
He also argues that the restrictions harm consumers by leaving handset companies with much less to sell: Since they can't sell top placement or default status to other app vendors, more of the cost of the phone will be borne by the customer.
Edelman cites statements by Google executives which tout the company's commitment to openness. In the light of the details of the MADA, some (in particular this blog by then Senior Vice President of Mobile at Google Andy Rubin), appear misleading. Others he cites, such as an exchange between Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Senator Kohl in a hearing, are perhaps subject to misinterpretation, but strictly true. In any case, Google requires handset companies to keep the MADA confidential, and this by itself enhances Google's competitive position.
He closes with a series of examples where he says Google ties one product or service to other services. Edelman has written extensively on Google business practices over the years.
We have contacted Google for a reaction to Edelman's posting, but have not yet received a response.