Google Defends Android in European Antitrust Case

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The Android mobile operating system helped usher in the era of cheap smartphones and gives consumers greater choice over apps than Apple's iOS, Google argued today in a response to an antitrust complaint from European regulators.

Google insisted its practice of pre-installing its own suite of apps on Android smartphones and tablets is easily reversible by end users and doesn't prevent device manufacturers from pre-installing their own rival apps.

The filing was an official answer to a European Commission investigation into anti-competitive Android practices opened last April. The Commission is focusing on three potentially illegal practices: Google's requirement that manufacturers exclusively pre-install its own apps; preventing developers from installing "Android forks"; and bundling of certain services to hinder rivals.

"The response we filed today shows how the Android ecosystem carefully balances the interests of users, developers, hardware makers, and mobile network operators," Google explained. "Android hasn't hurt competition, it's expanded it."

Google also argued that its measures to prevent forks—versions of Android that device manufacturers heavily modify—do not violate antitrust laws. Forks are discouraged to prevent the kind of fragmentation that would dilute the Android experience and render it less competitive with iOS, Google explained.

Even though Google prefers that its partners offer a pure Android experience, they are not required to do so. Android's Open Source Platform (AOSP) offers manufacturers the ability to customize the OS nearly any way they see fit. Devices based on that platform include Nokia's X line, introduced in 2013. The OS on those phones resembled Windows Phone devices, and they did not ship with Google's Play store for downloading apps.

But it's basically an all-or-nothing proposition. Either you go with AOSP and launch with no Google services, or choose Google and bundle all the apps its requires. You can't mix and match for a phone with Google Maps but Yahoo search pre-installed, for example.

Despite Google's assurances, the European Commission has traditionally taken a tough stance on antitrust issues in the tech industry, including a landmark ruling against Microsoft in 2007. Google's response this week is the latest official filing in what could be a drawn out investigation with parallels to the Microsoft case. If Google loses, it could face a penalty of $7.5 billion, or 10 percent of its annual revenue, although the New York Times notes that Europe has levied much smaller penalties in previous cases.

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