A few years ago, Google dropped its unofficial motto “don’t be evil.” The phrase was a part of the company’s corporate code of conduct since 2000 but when the company was reorganized under a new parent company – Alphabet – a variant of that motto was adopted.
“Do the right thing.”
We believe that Google has veered off that promise and has failed to fulfil the obligations of a gatekeeper. And hence we ask, kya hua tera vaada (what about your promise)?
Businesses and app publishers who depend on gatekeepers to offer their services require a fairer business environment and technology startups need new opportunities to compete and innovate online without having to comply with unfair terms and conditions limiting their development.
And at the end of the day, consumers would do well with a choice of providers as well as direct access to their preferred services.
The Digital Markets Act of the European Commission is one of the centrepieces of the European digital strategy for digital platforms that have a strong intermediation position and those that have an entrenched position in the market. According to the act, the gatekeeper platforms must allow third parties to inter-operate with the gatekeeper’s own services in certain specific situations and not treat services and products offered by the gatekeeper more favourably than similar services or products offered by third parties on the platform.
The open world of Android
Earlier this month, Google was sued by three dozen states in the US alleging that the company illegally abused its power over the sale and distribution of apps through the Google Play Store. The company has been accused of anticompetitive tactics to thwart competition and ensure that developers have no choice but to go through the Google Play store to reach users.
“We built Android to create more choices in mobile technology. Today, anyone, including our competitors, can customize and build devices with the Android operating system — for free,” Google responded via a blog post.
Even in the “open” and “free” world of Android, hardware manufacturers and developers have to play by Google’s rules. Google prefers to retain an iron grip on the software via its Google Mobile Services without which several third-party apps cannot use Google’s APIs for core functionality like location data, payments, ads, etc. This has hurt OEMs and open-source communities that have tried building an alternative ecosystem of apps.
Google has been deceptive with both OEMs and consumers – open in the streets but locked-in in the sheets, to use the popular analogy.
The company also changes its rules to gain competitive advantage and that doesn’t build confidence. For example, from September 2021, subscription streaming services that were exempted earlier, must either tie into the Google payments system or deny their users the ability to purchase subscriptions from their apps. Advantage, YouTube Music?
Google could well look at its Big Tech rival, Microsoft, for inspiration. At the unveil of Windows 11, the next generation of Windows, the company announced that apps on the Microsoft Store can bring in their own payment systems and then will not have to pay anything to Microsoft.
The lawsuit also alleged that while Google does enable consumers to avoid the Play Store, it displays “generally misleading warnings and hurdles” to discourage such activity. While Android allowed users to install apps from third-party app stores, it never made the process easy.
According to developer documentation for Android 12, the upcoming version of Android, under certain conditions, alternative app stores will not need manual user interaction to install or update apps on Android 12. This might mean that installing apps from alternative sources on Android 12 should feel akin to the Play Store. If it ships without some backhanded shenanigans, I’ll admit, it’s a step in the right direction.
Windows 11, as I touched upon before, will also have the ability to run Android apps and I’m looking forward to exploring how the functionality is offered and how the app ecosystem will evolve considering the platform will offer a potential opportunity to cater to millions of Windows users.
Last year, several top app publishers – including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify, and others – banded together and launched ‘Coalition for App Fairness’ to fight against Apple and Google and focus on either forcing app store providers to change their policies, or ultimately forcing the app stores into regulation.
Closer home, more than 150 startups and businesses in India got together to form an alliance and have been toying with the idea of launching an app store to cut their reliance on Google and counter the company’s ‘monopolistic’ hold on India. The list of entrepreneurs includes Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, MakeMyTrip’s Deep Kalra, and executives from PolicyBazaar, RazorPay and ShareChat.
The growing discontent around Google’s Play Store policies indicate the restlessness in the industry and can stifle innovation and decelerate digitization. Competition, lawsuits, and regulatory pressures aren’t the right motivations to chart strategic course.
It’s time for Google to do the right thing.