News & Analysis

Is Under Fire Google Pulling a Fast One?

The company is claiming that antitrust orders against it could cause a price spike in Android devices, bought by 95% of Indian smartphone users

What does one do when one’s under fire? Quite simple really! Just divert it across a broader landscape in the hope that someone out there will return the fire. That those returning the fire could be ignorant of the actual reasons for the firing is an added advantage, especially if one has the ability and authority to obfuscate the matter using one’s hegemony. 

Google has become a past master at such obfuscation and its latest attempt at doing so is quite hilarious. The company says smartphones operating on the Android ecosystem would cost more if India’s Competition Commission does not rescind its penalty of Rs.1,337.76 crore imposed on the search giant for monopolizing the Android mobile ecosystem. 

Just to get a clearer picture, here is what Google says: The CCI’s two recent orders against Google would make smartphones more expensive because different and unique versions of its patented Android OS would now cost more and Google has no qualms over passing such costs for user safety and security on to the customers. 

In its India blog post, Google says these versions of Android, called forks, would prevent Google from security the devices as they would not support its security and user-safety features. “Since incompatible Android forks will not support the security and user safety features that Google provides, security responsibilities for these devices will instead fall to the OEMs, who will need to invest extensively in creating consistent, all-year-round security upgrades themselves.” 

In other words, smartphone makers would have to spend money for more data security, which would then get passed on to mobile phone users when they line up to purchase their next device. 


Hey Google! If this isn’t monopolistic behavior what is? 

Here’s a quick recap of how things have panned out for Google in recent times. The CCI ruled on October 20 last year and five days later that Google needs to cough up Rs.1,337 crore and Rs.936 crore for anti-competitive practices on Android. Additionally, it needs to effect policy changes to prevent abuse of its dominant position in the Android OS market and on PlayStore.

Though the tech giant challenged both rulings, it was denied interim relief by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) in both cases, following which now Google has sought recourse to an appeal with the Supreme Court, which comes up for hearing today. On its part, CCI laid out a series of steps Google needs to take to provide fair access to stakeholders.

The regulator ruled that handset makers must not be forced to pre-install other services offered by Google and that licensing of PlayStore to OEMs mustn’t be linked to this pre-installation requirement of adding search services, the Chrome browser, YouTube and several other applications from the Google suite. It also asked Google to not deny access  to Play Services APIs to curtail collaborative development by OEMs, app developers and competitors.

On its part, Google goes to the extent of claiming that the free Android OS enables device makers to build more handsets at different price points that give users more choices. It allows OEMs to pre-install other apps from sources beyond PlayStore and if the antitrust penalties persist, small developers may be forced to prioritize which of the Android forks they work with as their own costs will increase with every additional version they support. 

Google also said in the blog that developers won’t have the level playing field they have today with Android whereby larger developers with bigger purses would dominate the market. The blog says this would be damaging for developers and consumers alike, as they won’t get access to important online services because developers cannot invest enough for these apps. 

These are the two sides of the coin. Now it is up to each of our readers to figure out what it means for them. 

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