Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carrier partners happy?

Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carrier partners happy?

Summary: Carrier blocking of some Android tethering apps has some accusing Google of "playing ball" and compromising their position as an open source advocate.

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It was interesting to read some of the blog coverage this week about a crackdown on Android tethering apps by the wireless carriers. In most cases, one might expect the backlash to be focused on the carriers themselves, portraying them as greedy execs only interested in shaking us down for more money. But that's not what happened this time around. Instead, Google was the target.

Tethering, the ability to use the mobile device’s broadband connection for Internet access on other devices, is a premium service that carriers can charge for. But it's not so easy to get customers to pay for that service if there are apps in the Android Marketplace that will allow consumers to tether for free. Only Sprint, among the four major carriers in the U.S., is not blocking Android tethering apps.

But instead of getting upset with the carriers, the techie crowd is lashing out at Google for this latest development, accusing the company of "playing ball" with the carriers and violating the spirit of open source.

Ouch. One of Google’s biggest trump cards in the rise of Android, especially among techies, has been its position as an advocate for open source. That openness, some might argue, is what’s allowed Android to grow the way it has, allowing it to be a serious contender with the more rigid and closed Apple iOS operating system.

And, one would think that given the growth patterns around Android that the company would have a bit more leverage in negotiating with the carriers.

Now that Google has “caved,” as the Business Insider blog called it, there are new questions about Google’s commitment to open source. From the BI blog:

This event marks a watershed moment for Google and their Android Market. Along with the Grooveshark ordeal, we're starting to see more indicators that Android is not necessarily as open as it once was across all carriers.

That's not the best message to have hovering overhead in the days ahead of Google I/O, the annual developers conference scheduled for next week in San Francisco.

As Google plays up apps development in Chrome, Google TV, Google Checkout and Honeycomb at the conference, there could be some concern about how apps in disruptive markets - such as Google TV - could be treated if powerful partners on the platform get their feathers ruffled in the future.

Blogger Chris Zeigler does a good job of explaining why the violation of the open source spirit is worth noting, reminding us that "Google made a big splash a little over three years ago during the auction for the C Block 700MHz spectrum that Verizon now uses for its LTE network, intentionally driving up bidding past the $4.6 billion..." Google's intention was to make sure the auction bidding reached the point where important "open applications" and "open handsets" license conditions kicked in.

So, what do you think? Did Google compromise its open source values for the sake of pleasing a carrier partner? More importantly, how important is it to maintain those values, now that Android has become as big as it has?

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Topics: Open Source, Apple, Google, Mobility, Operating Systems

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122 comments
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  • You can't really say Google "sold out"

    because Google was always Evil from day one. It just that the fandroid are dilusional when it comes to Google.

    This is a great article and I'm glad the techie crowd is finally calling Google out. Maybe we'll get finally a real open source champion when people starting seeing Google for what they are.
    iPad-awan
    • RE: Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carriers partners happy?

      @iPad-awan
      Also, please note that Sprint is the good-guy here. They are the carrier who is *not* blocking tethering.
      x I'm tc
      • Not for too long

        @jdakula We'll see about that!!!!
        Nsaf
      • Sprint doesn't block tethering because it's their HOOK ...

        @jdakula ... to draw customers. If their network was as saturated as ATT or VZW, I guarantee you they would block tethering for those not willing to pay the premium.
        M Wagner
      • RE: Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carriers partners happy?

        @jdakula
        As soon as they have concrete subscribers matching with AT&T and Big Red in size, they too would command Google.
        Ram U
      • RE: Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carriers partners happy?

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    • open source ??

      @iPad-awan Using open source software doesn't mean you have a right to use other people's resources how you want - I realize that concept seems to be misunderstood by the "everything should be free" crowd but it's simple fact

      Whoever thinks otherwise I've got a cool open source zombie app I'd like to get you to run on your PC so I can add you to my global botnet :-)
      archangel9999
      • Not misunderstood really, just intertwined.

        @archangel9999 There are two different arguments at work here - one is Google caving into demands to block a particular app. The other is the carriers double charging for tethering/ data usage. The two meet when it is the carriers blocking an app to allow tethering on their network using data we've already paid for and not allowing them to charge us twice.

        I'd buy the whole "tethering should be a separate charge" line the carriers are trotting out IF there was a separate allotment of data for tethering and for data use on the device itself. However it is the SAME allotment of data that is being used and I for one refuse to be charged twice for the same thing.
        athynz
      • RE: Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carriers partners happy?

        @athynz
        Verizon's tethering charge is for a limited 2gb. My current plan is unlimited data for my smartphone. I get where VZ is coming from by wanting these programs blocked, but 2gb for 30 dollars? I personally think thats outrageous, but then again comcast charges their customers whatever insane amounts for high speed but only a limited amount of 250 gb.... I wonder how fast you could blow through 250 gb on their fastest internet. i know comcast and vzw are apples and oranges but who's the real psycho evil carrier out there...
        t0cableguy
      • RE: Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carriers partners happy?

        @archangel9999 Well, Google said, you can install anything and that it is completely open. Then why did it ban these apps? They are open when ever they like and closed when they dont. Look at China. They are not following the rules of China and complaining. They are doing the same as what China is doing in many other countries.(I am not supporting China here...just pointing Google's agenda).
        pradhanavs@...
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    • RE: Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carriers partners happy?

      @iPad-awan If you want tethering apps, you can always install them off the web, unless you have an ATT phone, but that's a different story. I downloaded my tethering app off the web browser on my thunderbolt, and installed it. still works.
      solomonshv
      • REVERSE-TETHER, INTERNET-PASSTHROUGH NOT AVAILABLE ON ANDROID

        @solomonshv
        Incredibly hard to do reverse-tether (using Internet on the phone using the PC's internet connection) on an Android phone. Check any Android forum, you'll find Google-shills discouraging comments.
        Hmm...
      • Re:Reverse Tether

        @Hmmm...

        Why would I want to reverse tether? I can use my home wireless with my Android phone. Sure, it's a power hog so it shortens the battery time, but at home I can also plug the phone in to the charger, and have unlimited time.

        Still, the small screen size limits what I would want to do on it.

        I can understand the carriers needs too. They have vastly oversold the available bandwidth. Universal broadband can not be provided wirelessly on any system with a reasonable cell size. There are bottlenecks at the antennas, in the electronics of the cell towers, in the feeds to the cell towers, and so forth. To do this, we need either a massive mesh network, or fiber to the end user. Switching centers are going to need to go all optical too. A gigabit per second for everyone will need a petabit per second back end.

        Still, it isn't Google doing this. It is the Carriers. The Verison Android core is 'tweeked' from the Google standard Android core. Updates don't come from Google, they come from the carrier too. Or is this little factoid just not juicy enough?
        YetAnotherBob
      • RE: Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carriers partners happy?

        @YetAnotherBob

        Not True! We have not reached the physical limits of the tech! We've merely reached the limits of what AT&T wants to spend to add new customers! It should scale, for every x amount of customers, put up another tower. AT&T simply decided people would keep signing up if they made that number 'y' or even 'z'.
        tkejlboom
      • RE: Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carriers partners happy?

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    • Android still OPEN. You get what you agree with!

      This ALL BS, Read your Agreement and you aren't allow to tether your device for free unless you pay for it. Google didn't remove the apps it was block only on the carries that ask to be block and if you root your phone and install other ROM you will get all the apps back.

      When you signed your cell contract, you agreed to specified usage restrictions on the data plan. If you don't like it, that's just too bad. You signed the contract anyway. Some people would call signing a contract with terms you don't like a stupid decision
      locopollito
      • Law Of Contracts And Torts

        @locopollito---There are plenty of clauses and contracts that do not stand up, and are not enforced when challenged in Court. Contracts, improperly written or agreed to are not written in stone.
        PreachJohn
      • RE: Android's blocked apps: Is Google selling out open source to keep carriers partners happy?

        @locopollito

        Some would call it that. But they are just being pretentious. The reality is that due to their monopoly power carriers do not negotiate contracts freely and openly with the customer. They can usually get away with this legally, but they have no moral right to do this. With luck, we may erode their legal right to do it as well. But not right away.
        mejohnsn