Google faces EU competition complaint over Android apps

Google faces EU competition complaint over Android apps

Summary: Google is facing another competition complaint in Europe, this time for allegedly burying third-party app stores.

TOPICS: Mobility, Android, Google, EU

Aptoide, a Portugal-based third-party Android app store, has filed a complaint with European Commission competition watchdog, claiming Google is unfairly muscling app store rivals out of the market.

Among the issues listed in Apotoide's complaint is that Google has made it more difficult to install apps on Android devices from sources other than Google Play, co-founder and CEO Paulo Trezentos told ZDNet's sister site CNET.

"Google has spent the last two years undermining Aptoide and other App Stores by changing the rules," Trezentos said in a blog post.

Aptoide claims Google has suspended rival app stores from Google Play and introduced "unnecessary complexity" in the process of installing apps downloaded outside of Google Play. (Android users can install apps from third-party app stores or the web by checking 'Unknown Sources' in Android's security settings interface.)

Another complaint involves Google's removal of key services from the Android Open Source Project, which were subsequently included in its own proprietary product, known as Google Mobile Services.

Ars Technica highlighted last year the list of services under this umbrella has grown over time, with Google suspending further development of features in services that end up in AOSP while developing new features in the Play Store. These include Google's Calendar, Keyboard, Camera, and Maps, among others.

Finally, Aptoide also claims the Chrome browser blocks access to third-party app stores.

Google had not responded to request for comment at the time of writing.

The office of Europe's competition commissioner confirmed to ZDNet that it has received the complaint, but whether it actually launches an investigation over the allegations is another matter.

However, Google may still be facing a probe over Android. Announcing an antitrust settlement with Google earlier this year — an arrangement involving search which is still yet to be finalised — Europe's competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia said he was also looking into allegations relating to Android.

Last year FairSearch, an organisation whose members include Nokia, Microsoft, Oracle and others, filed an EU complaint accusing Google of predatory pricing. It alleged Google was distributing Android below-cost distribution, making it difficult for rivals to recoup their own investments in mobile software.

In assessing whether a company has abused Europe's competition law, the EC notes that "a dominant company has a special responsibility to ensure that its conduct does not distort competition". Android's market share of roughly 70 percent would appear to qualify it as a dominant company in the smartphone OS space.

Examples of behaviour by a dominant player that can amount to infringement of European competition law include "requiring that buyers purchase all units of a particular product only from the dominant company (exclusive purchasing); setting prices at a loss-making level (predation); refusing to supply input indispensable for competition in an ancillary market; charging excessive prices," according to the EC.

Read more on Android

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, EU

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Android needs to support software repositories

    Android users wanting to install apps from legitimate 3rd party app stores should not have to enable the installation of apps from unknown sources on their devices. One should simply be able to add an app store to the current list of repositories which would include Google Play (or similar, e.g., Amazon app store) by default.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • that option is there to warn people of potential risks

      a 3rd party app store could be potentially just as risky as a random website hosting an apk. and once you enable 3rd party installs all the app stores work seamlessly.
      • The risks are much larger allowing apps from *all* unknown sources

        Than are the risks from adding a legitimate 3rd party app store to one's Android device.

        Using the Debian GNU/Linux desktop as an example, one can choose to add the unofficial repository with very little risk.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • but how would android know

          which are legitimate and which are not? even if Google were impartial and wanted to help other stores, they would not be willing to extend guarantees of safety to other 3rd party stores. that's a lawsuit waiting to happen. people would sue google for not warning them of viruses they got.
          • How does the Debian Project know

            that the repositories added by its users are legitimate or not?

            The way Android is set up, allowing either *all* apps or only apps from Google Play, is *highly* insecure. One should be able to manage their allowed app stores in Android.

            For example, apps are allowed to be installed on one's Android device from Google Play (the default app store) and the 3rd party Aptoide app store (added by the user) only. All other attempts to install an Android apk on the device will be disallowed.
            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • the debian project doesn't know at first

            but they have a relatively small amount of contributions constantly monitored by a community. android has millions and millions of apps which is way too big for a community to monitor. Google has control of their store and can monitor it but can't control other stores. I see no reason to make it easy to legitimize a 3rd party app store easier than any other apk- the user should know they're doing it at their own risk either way. if you wanted to make separate warnings per app store and then another for apk files not from app stores you could argue that I guess but that's getting a bit convoluted to the point I don't think the average user would be any more protected.
      • The owner of the device... fully responsible for it. If an Android user chooses to download software from untrustworthy sources, then it's his own fault if he infects his own property. If you use only the Google Play Store (which I actually do), then you're trusting Google to properly vet the offerings (unless you choose to do it yourself) If you use third party respositories (which Google allows), then you are trusting their maintainers. Either way, the buck stops with the owner/user, which is where it belongs.

        I think it's still better than the Apple "walled garden" approach, which makes ownership of the device almost purely nominal (it's really a license to use, subject to Apple's own rules).
        John L. Ries
      • agree!

        these are just faked complaints logged by M$ & apple!
        LlNUX Geek
        • Reread the first paragraph

          I think the FairSearch complaint is spurious, but the Aptoide complaint might well be valid.
          John L. Ries
          • It is confusion

            I thought LG was responding to my post.
            John L. Ries
  • Mh.......

    "Aptoide also claims the Chrome browser blocks access to third-party app stores"


    I just Googled it and went straight to the site. Seems to work just fine.
  • Fine them $10 billion

    EU is too soft on Google. Google is built on stolen products.
    • I have to say

      what the hell? It is clear that Google in this instance has done nothing wrong, and the last thing we need is trolls like you cluttering up the comments and spreading nonsense.
      • Too much of a fanboi?

        "Google has done nothing wrong" - you must be kidding... everything Google do is bad, unethical and evil...

        Google has abused open-source projects and stole java shamelessly, they steal content from competitors...the list goes on.
        • google just uses the java APIs

          are you one of those nuts who thinks APIs can and should be copyrighted?
        • *Everything* it does is unethical?

          That's hard to do and get away with it. Selective ethics is far more lucrative than pure anti-ethics (which is unsustainable) can possibly be.
          John L. Ries
    • All products in some form are stolen!

      All products in some form are stolen!
  • interesting

    I find it most interesting how the EU has re focused itself from Microsoft to now Google.
    • what's so surprising here?

      Google is getting bigger and uses its position to squeeze competition. MS on the other hand is no longer in position to twist others' arms
      • Really?

        Fairsearch is Microsoft's pet project. Funny thing is that Microsoft themselves copied the same pricing (zero cost per device, with conditions) that they attacked Google over. Just like how they copied the privacy terms of service they attacked Google over 6 months afterwards. The hypocrisy never ends.