Google hit by an antitrust lawsuit

Google is one of the big tech companies that have found comfort in controversy. The tech giant attended several congressional hearings over its business models and the way it handles users’ data.

Last week, the Sundar Pichai-led firm was again in the spotlight after a group of legal advocates from 36 states filed a lawsuit against it.

The complaint accuses Google of using anticompetitive tactics “to diminish and disincentivize competition in Android app distribution”, and said that developers have “no reasonable choice but to distribute their apps through the Google Play Store”.

It adds: “Android is the only viable operating system available to license by mobile device manufacturers that market and sell their devices to US consumers,” and goes on to say that the barriers to entry in the licensable mobile operating system market are high, and: “even highly resourced entrants, such as Microsoft and Amazon have failed. Google, which controls approximately 99% of this market, has durable monopoly power in the market and considerable leverage over mobile device manufacturers and Android app developers.” 

Responding to the suit by the attorneys, Wilson White, Google’s senior director of public policy, said that Android helps create more choices of devices and apps.  

“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,” says White.  

Google Play meanwhile merely helps people download apps on their devices, he argues. 

“If you don’t find the app you’re looking for in Google Play, you can choose to download the app from a rival app store or directly from a developer’s website. We don’t impose the same restrictions as other mobile operating systems do,” he says. 

“Strangely, a group of state attorneys general chose to file a lawsuit attacking a system that provides more openness and choice than others,” says White. 

White highlights that Google faces stiff competition from Apple. “The complaint limits its definition of the app marketplace to Android devices only. This completely ignores the competition we face from other platforms such as Apple’s incredibly successful app store,” he said. 

White also notes that handset makers and carriers can preload competing app stores alongside Google Play on their devices. “Most Android devices ship with two or more app stores preloaded,” he said – plus users can side-load apps. 

Developers also don’t have to use Google Play, he argued: “Developers who don’t like our policies can still distribute their apps to Android users directly or through rival app stores without using our billing system or paying us a cent — and many do.” 

The Google Play Store earns far less than Apple’s App Store, according to data from App Annie. Google earned $11 billion from apps in Q1 2021 versus the $21 billion that Apple made.   

Apple is also facing questions from regulators over its model, which prevents iPhone users from sideloading apps or downloading them from anywhere outside the App Store.