Google Paid Phone Makers to Ditch Third Party App Stores

You may be aware of Epic Games, the creators of the hit game Fortnite, suing Google and Apple regarding alleged antitrust violations after they both dropped Fortnite from the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store respectively earlier this year.

The gist of Epic’s suit was that the payment restrictions on the Play Store basically constitute a monopoly, and thus, a violation of fair trade practices engrained in the Sherman Act.

The Sherman Antitrust Act made it illegal for companies operating in the United States to band together into small groups for the purpose of making agreements about price or distribution of products and services which would disadvantage the customer, in this case, Google putting up hurdles to ensure every payment made in the Play Store must pass through their payment system which leads to them making a significant amount of money from other third-party businesses, who might want to use their own payment methods for the apps they have developed.

Epic Games is particularly concerned about the Google Play Store’s powerful role as a distributor of Android apps, and the Play Store’s requirement that hosted applications must use Play Store Billing for any in-app purchases.

Epic Games took aim at Google’s famous mantra “Don’t Be Evil”.

22 years later, Google has relegated its motto to nearly an afterthought, and is using its size to do evil upon competitors, innovators, customers, and users in the various markets it has grown to monopolize.

Google on its end reinforced its standing that Fortnite was removed from the Play Store for violating clear and pre-established rules.

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“For game developers who choose to use the Play Store, we have consistent policies that are fair to developers and keep the store safe for users, while Fortnite remains available on Android, we can no longer make it available on the Play Store because it violates our policies. However, we welcome the opportunity to continue our discussions with Epic and bring Fortnite back to Google Play.” A Google representative said

New details coming to light

Fast-forward a few months later and new details are being revealed from the US government antitrust probes against Google and documents produced since the original lawsuit.

One fascinating one is that Google maintains a close relationship with Apple, and had even agreed to pay between $8 and $12 billion to be Apple’s default search provider.

Further adding salt to injury, even more information is coming out from the unredacted sections of Epic’s antitrust complaint against Google and the extent to which Google went to undermine third-party app stores on the Android platform.

According to the new text, starting in 2019, Google oversaw a “Premier Device Program” that provided Android phone makers with a larger share of search revenue than they would receive under normal circumstances.

On their side, the Android Phone makers would then agree to ship their devices without any third-party app stores preinstalled.

More specifically, they abode by a rule that prohibited “apps with APK install privileges” without Google’s approval, leaving the Play Store as the only built-in digital marketplace for software.

“Google’s Premier Device Program was not publicly known, and was not known to Epic, before Google recently began producing relevant documents in this litigation. Google has sought to conceal its most restrictive anticompetitive conduct by, among other things, including in the agreements themselves a provision restricting signatories from making ‘any public statement regarding [the] Agreement without the other party’s prior written approval,” wrote Epic’s lawyers in the complaint

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Epic maintains the Premier Devices Program was a resounding success, and it only further solidified the Play Store’s dominance.

By May 2020, many of the world’s largest and most popular Android OEMs had agreed to Google Play exclusivity for most of their new Android devices. Motorola (owned by Lenovo) and LG both committed nearly all (98 percent and 95 percent) of their devices to the Premier program.

The giant Chinese conglomerate BBK — which manufactures and sells a range of Android devices under its Oppo, Vivo, and OnePlus brands, among others, had designated around 70 percent of its new devices as “Premier.”

Few companies like Sony and Xiaomi were however not as committed, only entering 50% and 40% respectively of their new devices into the program.

For comparison, in order to understand how rare it is for people to get applications outside the Play Store, An internal Google report from 2017, according to Epic Games, found that “app installations through channels other than Google Play” amounted to only a measly 4.4% of Android app downloads in the United States.

Naftaly is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for tech, video games and pop culture. When he is not writing articles for AndroidKenya, he is probably rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the hundredth time. Email at Twitter @KarisNaftaly