Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

Summary:Android has become a Frankenstein monster says the New America Foundation, whose board chairman is Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Free "the people" and you free people. Free a monopolist and you unleash a monster.

It is now obvious that it's the latter step Google took with Android and folks in Washington are starting to take notice.

The New America Foundation, a liberal think tank founded in 1999 whose board chairman is (ironically) Google CEO Eric Schmidt (right), is out with a series of reports by four key members of its technology team, sounding the call.

Android has become a Frankenstein monster, they write, and the good doctor needs to face the consequences.

The most captivating charge is that T-Mobile is willfully violating the spirit if not the letter of Librarian of Congress James Billington's July order stating that consumers have a right to control the software on their phones.

At issue is an HTC-installed chip on T-Mobile's new G2 Android phone that prevents users from modifying the software on the phone.

"One of the microchips embedded into the G2 prevents device owners from making permanent changes that allow custom modifications to the the Android operating system," the team writes, and T-Mobile confirmed this in a press statement.

This has political implications, the team writes in a follow-up:

The fundamental question the FCC now needs to answer is not if developers will find a way around the latest blocks, but if companies should be allowed to continue actively blocking users from truly owning and having full control over the mobile devices they buy in the first place.

What this means is that Schmidt is now in a political bind, as well as a business one. A group he chairs accuses him of allowing monopolists to run roughshod over consumers. Rhetoric about "open source freedom" is not going to answer these charges.

The choice is either to take control of Android, both in the name of users and the Google brand, or to resign from the New America Foundation board.

Topics: Mobility, Google


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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