Google’s whacking great fine – and what it means for everyone else…

By | July 23, 2018
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I usually try to write about things that are directly useful to as many readers as possible…

But occasionally I also write about things that the newspapers are making a fuss about – but far too many of them are getting it wrong.

And that’s what I want to do today – the odd bit of this might seem a bit technical… but I’ll get onto how it affects people shortly…

So, you’ve probably heard about the whacking great fine that Google have just had from the EU – nearly four billion pounds. Not the kind of sum most of us have down the back of our sofas.

That bit the papers generally have got right. But most of them have been a bit shaky on what it’s actually for. And they’ve not all mentioned the most important bit: the ruling on what Google has to do now (or within 90 days at least) that is what could affect ordinary people who use Android phones.

First off, what’s the situation now:

You might read in a paper or seen on TV that if a phone maker wants to use Android as it’s operating system (the system that runs the phone), Google make them include Google Chrome (their web browser) and Google search.

That’s not actually true though.

What’s actually true is that if you make phones and want to use Android, you have two choices. There’s one that doesn’t have Chrome or Google Search – and you’re free to use that.

There’s another that has Chrome, Search and a handful of other apps (YouTube for example), including the Google Play Store – the place Google run that you can get new apps. They call it a bundle of apps.

But you can’t pick and choose – you either include all of this bundle or none of it.

So in a nutshell, if you don’t include Chrome and Search, you can’t include the Play Store. So you either need to set up your own place for people to get apps or use one of the other ones that’s out there. (There are a few but I’d say none of the others are as good as Google’s one.)

And the EU aren’t happy with that – Google Search is how the company make most of their money and it’s far more popular than any other search engine. (I’d argue that’s mainly because it’s the best – but obviously it doesn’t hurt them that it comes included with most Android phones).

So the argument goes that making phone makers include Google Search if they want to include the Google Play Store is anti-competitive and illegal. (Remember all these things are given away free by Google.)

Of course, the phone maker is completely free to install other web browsers and Search engines as well as Google’s ones and still include the Play Store. They just can’t take Google’s ones off and still include the Play Store.

There’s also a rule Google have that if you’re a phone maker and you want to make a lot of changes to Android (called a forked version) then you can’t include this bundle of apps. They say that’s because if the manufacturer changes Android that much, Google’s apps might not run properly and they’d have no control to fix that.

So for example Amazon’s Fire tablet doesn’t include Chrome, the Play Store or Google Search because they’ve based it on a version of Android they’ve changed a lot.

Google doing that has also been ruled illegal.

So what do Google have to do?
First of all there’s the fine. Hard to forget that much money! But what I think will affect people more is the ruling on what they have to do in the future.

The rule is that in the EU they can no longer insist that any phone that uses their Android system and has the Play Store also has the Google Search and Google Chrome apps. The manufacturers may still chose to include them, but they can’t be made to.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the bigger phone manufacturers come up with their own versions of search and include them instead, so they get the income from it (but still use Google’s Play Store). These versions of search almost certainly won’t be as good as this is something Google have done better than anyone else for decades.

Under the ruling, Google also can’t stop companies who make a “forked version” from including those apps if they want to.

The EU hasn’t said exactly how Google have to go about it and I don’t think we’ll be seeing anything like the “Browser Choice” window that was forced on Microsoft a few years ago.

But since Google get most of their income from search, if it isn’t being included on so many phones, they may well change how they do things. And the most obvious thing to do (and something they’ve already said they’re now considering) is to simply not give Android away free any more – instead they’d charge the phone companies.

That in turn would mean new smartphones were more expensive – and would come with search that probably works a bit less well.

We’ll see, though. Google have already announced they’re appealing the ruling, so it may yet come to nothing. But somehow, I doubt it.

Phew – I know that was a bit more technical than most of my emails. I wanted to make it clear and spell out what might possibly happen as a result. Hopefully that’s made it a bit clearer than it was before. Back to my normal type of tips and advice next week.

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