Google’s Dirty Little Android Secrets Leaked

The Android operating system, which Google touts as open, isn’t.

Google imposes strict restrictions on smartphone manufacturers and app developers in its Android mobile application distribution agreement, or MADA, according to excerpts of documents revealed by Ben Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School.

The information was obtained from two MADAs — one with HTC and one with Samsung — that were admitted in open court in Oracle’s lawsuit against Google over Java.

“Under pressure, Google may well have to lift these restrictions, letting competitors get a better chance to offer their apps and services,” Edelman, who states up front that he’s a consultant to some of Google’s competitors, told LinuxInsider.

Google did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

The MADAs’ Restrictions

In sum, smartphone manufacturers must agree to install all apps Google specifies, with the prominence Google requires, including setting those apps as a default per the company’s instructions, if they want to get key mobile apps including Google Search, Maps and YouTube, Edelman said.

It’s an all-or-nothing proposition — installing one Google app means having to install them all. Since smartphone manufacturers need Google Play and YouTube, they must accept Google Search, Maps, Network Location Provider and other apps, regardless of whether they prefer alternatives.

The Google Search and Google Play icons must be placed at least on the panel immediately adjacent to the default home screen, and phone manufacturers must set Google Search as the default search provider for all Web search access points.

All other Google applications must be placed no more than one level below the phone’s top level.

Google’s Network Location Provider must be preloaded as the default.

Stifling the Opposition

These provisions restrict competition, Edelman charged.

Smartphone manufacturers can install third-party search, map or email apps in addition to the Google apps they must include, Edelman said. However, multiple apps are duplicative, confusing to users, and a drain on device batteries.

Further, manufacturers cannot install third-party apps in exchange for a subsidy that would lower the cost of the device.

Competitors are likely to be less willing to pay for preinstallation of their apps because Google apps must be the default, and its search and app store apps must be placed prominently.

“Google enjoys a position of dominance in the market for mobile phone operating systems,” Edelman said. Android and Windows Phone “are the only commercially viable options” for smartphone manufacturers.

Android’s position “is tenfold larger,” Edelman continued. “Antitrust law applies higher standards for companies in this position.”

The Possible MADA Backlash

It’s possible that the revelations might spark the interest of antitrust regulators and a negative reaction from the open source community, Edelman said.

The disclosures “will upset developers,” said Nick Spencer, a senior director of research at ABI Research.

“They are quite religious about open source stuff, and they’re quite annoyed about Apple not having a transparent certification program to get on the App Store, and this is not dissimilar to that,” he told LinuxInsider.

“Another possibility is further investigation by the Senate Antitrust Committee; one imagines they might be disappointed to learn that [Google CEO Eric] Schmidt’s response was less than forthright,” Edelman suggested.

He was referring to a September 2011 committee hearing, where Schmidt reportedly said Google did not demand that smartphone manufacturers make it the default search engine as a condition of using the Android OS.

Storm in a Teacup?

“It is no secret that Google has always intended to monetize Android with back-end services,” Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told LinuxInsider. “I really am not sure why everyone is shocked, shocked at this.”

With the MADA restrictions, Google is “trying to keep control,” surmised ABI’s Spencer. “They’ve seen all this fragmentation and are very worried about forked versions coming out of China and India — these forks constituted 25 percent of Android sales.”

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

7 Comments

  • Google provides a ton of free services to people who can choose to use them or not. They also have to pay a very high payroll to build and maintain those services. The money has to come from somewhere. That being said any google services you don’t want to use on your phone that are installed. You can force stop them and disable them. After which they will not show up in your list of available applications. They will not be started up upon reboot of your phone, they will not use any of your phones recourses, and if you choose to use something that needs one of the services you de activated it will "ask" you first before turning it on, you can then choose to or not to. I am lost to the fact that all of a sudden Google is being considered evil, why because it is growing? Companies grow or they fade away, thats business. If you don’t like the Android operating system and feel too constricted, go over and try the Apple side of things and you will see what constricted really is.
    Theres a lot more to worry about in this world than Google. Like it or don’t like it , use it or don’t. I would bet 3/4 of the complainers use Google Maps over Apple Maps though..#justme don’t hate me because I have an opinion that differs from yours…

  • I am really amazed with Windows Phone. I saw the functionality of Live Tiles, Nokia Camera App is superb which almost have functions of a DSLR camera, and main thing Office 365. I like android for games but I play sometimes. I am more interested in sophisticated MS Office on phone. Office 365 in WP is really cool and can easily add, modify excel, word and powerpoint files. For Games Xbox is very nice on WP. WP as per my view is a mix Business cum Entertainment.

    • Google does own Android. There are some services I wish I could uninstall the internet app which I use either FireFox or Chrome anyway. I don’t have much of a problem with it. Apple has complete control over what goes on with their phone and I don’t see why Google can’t enforce some control. However if third party apps can improve the battery life of user’s phone than I think Google needs to listen or make their apps to reflect this.

  • Android is completely open. You can do anything you want with it. If you don’t like Google applications, then don’t. Get a phone or tablet that doesn’t supply it. That is how the Nook is. It is a complete Android tablet. No google applications.

  • I would have thought it is obvious that a for profit company would want to optimize its market coverage – and providing extra free services is not a restriction of trade.
    However, having said that, the iniquitous fees charged – firstly by Apple and then joined by Google – on web developers sales are subject to attack.30% is not a reasonable rate- and should be investigated as applying too invasive a monopoly.
    But is Google ‘good or bad’ for open business? I am definitely in the ‘good’ camp for all of the rest they provide.

  • While I had not combed over the agreements, I’ve experienced the control Google has had over handsets. We had two Motorolas for which we had enabled Gmail a couple years ago. Seemingly harmless, except that later we could not delete the accounts from the phones without completely resetting them.

    If consumers want a completely interconnected application experience, that’s fine, however it should always be optional, opt-in, and never under any circumstances should it be all or nothing.

    Frankly, I hope this devastates Google’s mobile presence. The company went from a couple students with a great new search engine to a company that forces its tentacles into all facets of our daily lives while pretending to be the good guy.

    • Somewhere "Don’t be evil." has been trampled under a herd of corporate hooves. It annoys the hell out of me that I can’t uninstall the Google apps that I don’t intend to use.

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