Google’s Moral Duality

Platform wars are stupid. Trying to convince everyone that one OS, one phone or one game console is better than another is preposterous, as everyone is looking for a different set of features. If you’re someone who wants to endlessly customize your phone, you probably won’t be as happy with an iPhone as compared to an Android device, at least in an out-of-the-box kind of way. If you want to run a new version of the OS that isn’t officially supported on your phone you will, again, be happier with Android. And if you want an unregulated free market of apps, you have to go for an Android phone.

It is against Google’s morals to monitor or curate the apps that appear in Android Market. That’s fine; that’s their call. But copyright and trademark holders would likely appreciate a cursory glance at submissions to ensure their intellectual property isn’t being ripped off and re-sold by some jerkoff.

In a few minutes’ search of the Android Market, I found a Tron theme (and another, and another). I couldn’t find any indication on Disney’s site, the app pages on Market or on the developers’ sites that these are licensed applications. Likewise for this Toy Story app, this Disney songs app and this throwing Coke in a trash can app. If you visit the last one, you’ll note that the developer has a number of similar apps available with different company logos.

Apple is, of course, not spared. This live wallpaper depicts an Android logo peeing on an Apple logo. Very clever. So clever, in fact, that someone ripped him off with a slightly different version. There are also a number of iPhone themes available that use the original iOS icons.

This is a bit of a problem by itself, but I would side with the recent Canadian Supreme court decision that merely linking to something does not constitute collusion or liability. But these applications are being hosted by Google. Google is paying for any hosting fees and transaction fees that may be incurred. But what makes this especially infuriating is that Google takes a 30% cut of application sales. You’ll note that throughout this post I’ve only been linking to paid apps. Google will happily take 30% of the sales of applications that infringe upon copyright and trademark. I can’t even see ignorance as a defence here. Google knows what’s in their store, and they’re not taking reasonable steps to ensure infringing material isn’t allowed.

The sixth point on Google’s company philosophy states that they “can make money without doing evil.” They don’t seem particularly attached to that notion. Now that Android is no longer some pet project, Google has something of an obligation to make the official market for it free of malware and property infringement. Android is the most popular smartphone operating system, and Google should act like they know what that means for users.