The threat has been looming for a while, and now it's official. The EU has fired off its second set of antitrust charges at Google. Both antitrust accusations happened in under two years, and revolve around how Google handles its Android OS and the power it wields over OEMs.
Part of this accusation implies that Google has required Google Search to be default on Android, and has even offered financial incentives to have it act as the exclusive provider. The issue here is obvious: by wiping out the potential for competition to mosey on in, you've created a monopoly.
European Antitrust Commissioner Margrethe Vestager stated, "Google’s behavior has harmed consumers by stifling competition and harming innovation in the wider Internet space." That's a bold claim, but the sentiment could be true. On our desktops and notebooks, users are able to configure their default search provider easily; on Android, it's much tougher. That's despite the fact that Android is one of the most "open" OSes available. To use a different search provider, some users might be forced to use custom launchers, or perhaps even custom ROMs.
Google shot out a response to these latest accusations, with General Counsel Kent Walker saying, "Android has helped foster a remarkable—and, importantly, sustainable—ecosystem, based on open-source software and open innovation." Whether or not he and his team can convince the EU remains to be seen. Given the EU's past aggressiveness towards American companies, though, such as when it forced Microsoft to create an entirely separate version of Windows for the EU, Google is going to be facing an uphill battle.
In a detailed blog post, Google highlights a number of ways that the EU is wrong. It starts off by saying that partner agreements are voluntary; you can take Android and deploy it on your device without much fuss. It also goes on to say that manufacturers who want to "participate" in the Android ecosystem help make sure key apps work with each device. Companies can "then choose to load the suite of Google apps", as well as apps from competitors, such as "Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google, mobile carriers, and more."
Google isn't acting like it's fine with no Google apps on Android, "Of course while Android is free for manufacturers to use, it’s costly to develop, improve, keep secure, and defend against patent suits. We provide Android for free, and offset our costs through the revenue we generate on our Google apps and services we distribute via Android."
It's hard to argue with that, and it's likewise hard to argue with some specific points made by the EU. It's going to be interesting to see were this goes. It's a good thing Google has a top-flight legal team, because this is going to be one tough battle.