The FTC Accuses Google of Cheating Its Way to the Top
Most Android lovers see Android as the lovable underdog. With better specs and lower prices, it knocked Apple off of its number one spot to become the OS that’s in the hands of 2/3 of the smartphone users in the world.
But Google’s rise to the top may not be as innocent as we think. Currently, they’re being investigated by several anti-trust entities around the world for illegally locking out any competition that could have blocked their road to the top.
To date, most of the websites in the world depend on Google for the page ranks and traffic that are their bread and butter. And there aren’t really any viable alternatives to the search engine giant. Bing may try, but its aggressive advertising and outreach campaign have done little more than make it the butt of a lot of jokes.
Largely, many small web businesses depend on Google’s paid search results to stay afloat. Currently in the United States, Google owns 67 percent of the search market and collects 75 percent of the total search ad dollars spent annually.
There’s nothing wrong with that amount of market share in and of itself. After all, to he with the best product go the spoils. But dependence on one search engine makes people nervous. After all, their search algorithm is secret and small companies who suddenly find themselves outside of it can watch their businesses starve and eventually fold in a matter of months.
And that unprecedented size has people worried. The Federal Trade Commission is currently wondering if Google is violating anti-trust laws and steering traffic away from its competitors.
And there may be evidence that Google has done that. But not with its ubiquitous search engine: with its Android OS.
Android was once a distant second to Apple’s iOS. But over the past year, Android has grown from a marginal service to one that is in 2/3s of smart phone owners’ hands. That’s a lot of hands and a lot of influence from Google. And Google may be using some of that influence to throw its weight around.
A Boston start-up called Skyhook Wireless developed a location-based search service for smartphones back in 2003. In 2010, they made deals with Samsung and Motorola who were both interested in carrying the innovative search engine.
But that search engine was in direct competition with the one Google offers via Android. Google opposed the deal and Skyhook was dumped and left hanging in the wind. And now they’re suing the search giant for locking them out of the market.
And Skyhook may not be the only ones with anti-trust complaints. Currently the Federal Trade Commission is sending subpoenas out to several different wireless service providers and phone makers to find out if their products have been locked out of Android in a similar fashion.
And they may find that it’s happened a lot. The Skyhook case revealed that Google offers its OS to phone manufacturers for free and in exchange wireless carriers and phone manufacturers have to agree to “compatibility” clauses that restrict the additions and changes they are allowed to make to the open-source OS.
An internal Google e-mail revealed in the case called the compatibility clauses “a club to make them do things we want.” And it may be working. We don’t know yet what the anti-trust investigation will unearth, but it’s unlikely to spell bad news for Google.
In most cases, even guilty mega-corps are merely allowed to settle and pay a fine to the government. But a guilty verdict may mean more variety in the types of services that you see on your Android. And that’s never bad news.