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

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

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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