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Thursday, 19 July 2018 12:24

Undeterred by EU fine, Google continues to play the victim


Google has now been fined nearly US$8 billion by the European Union, but the company seems to be undeterred in its mission to muddy the waters, issuing a riposte that is a mix of Orwellian statements, fact and fiction.

The company was hit with a US$5 billion anti-trust fine over the business model it has for its Android mobile operating system overnight, but the response from the company's chief executive, Sundar Pichai has been to threaten that it may be forced to charge other companies who use the O-S licensing fees.

A $2.7 billion fine was imposed on Google last year for allegedly abusing its search engine dominance to give illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service. The company has appealed the decision.

Pichai did not call a press conference; that is not Google's style as it would involve talking to a bunch of unruly journalists who, importantly, can argue and contest what one says. No, Pichai wrote a blog post and added his picture for good measure. Now, people cannot argue with him and counter the nonsense that he spouts.

The fiction begins at the very start, where Pichai claims that Android has expanded the choice of phones around the world. Hardly. There are two kinds of phones – iOS and Android. Choice? Hardly.

The EU has placed two major restrictions on Google: it has to stop making phone manufacturers pre-install its search app and the Chrome Web browser if they want to pre-install Google’s Play store, the main source for Android apps.

Google has also been ordered to end restrictions that discourage manufacturers from selling devices that run unofficial versions of Android.

One of the myths that needs to be dispelled is that Android is an open source operating system. Not by a long shot. The kernel, a modified Linux kernel, is under the GNU General Public Licence version 2.0 and cannot be locked away even if Google wanted. There are numerous bits and pieces which are under other open source licences that permit code modification and do not insist on providing the changes to anyone else.

But Gmail, Google Maps, and all the other Google-specific apps are proprietary and cannot be deleted from an Android phone. Thus, Pichai's statement: "If you prefer other apps — or browsers, or search engines — to the preloaded ones, you can easily disable or delete them, and choose other apps instead, including apps made by some of the 1.6 million Europeans who make a living as app developers," is untrue.

I have tried disabling all Google apps on an Android phone and using it. The number of annoying pop-ups that keep appearing, asking for this or that to be re-enabled, will drive even a sadhu crazy. No, if you want to use Android phones, you have to drink the Kool-Aid.

Pichai tries to contrast the Android years with the pre-smartphone era when Microsoft held sway on the desktop and you could only use Windows. "Back then, changing the pre-installed applications on your computer, or adding new ones, was technically difficult and time-consuming," he writes, forgetting that it is precisely the same today with Android.

He then floats the line that "we chose to offer Android to phone makers and mobile network operators for free" as though it was an act of great charity. That was done to serve Google's ends – to dominate the smartphone market and ensure rapid development. It's the same reason why Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella makes nice with open source. You get rapid development by highly talented developers.

Who has seen an Android phone with Bing as the default search engine? DuckDuckGo? Yahoo!? There is only one option – Google Search. Pichai may as well have saved his energy in trying to spread the myth that Android is an open platform.

If there is so much competition, how come Google ends up owning the market? Are its products that much superior? Hardly. The company uses a silken noose and is trying to use the same tactics again to convince users that it is the victim.

My only regret is that the EU did not make the fine a nice round US$10 billion. That would have called for a bottle of Moet Chandon!


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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