Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Documents Unsealed in Epic Games’ Case Against Google Reveal Exclusivity Agreements

Thomas Claburn, the Register:

For example, the documents explain how Google employs revenue-sharing and licensing agreements with Android partners (OEMs) to maintain Google Play as the dominant app store. One filing describes “Anti-Fragmentation Agreements” that prevent partners from modifying the Android operating system to offer app downloads in a way that competes with Google Play.

“Google’s documents show that it pushes OEMs into making Google Play the exclusive app store on the OEMs’ devices through a series of coercive carrots and sticks, including by offering significant financial incentives to those that do so, and withholding those benefits from those that do not,” the redlined complaint says.

These agreements allegedly included the Premiere Device Program, launched in 2019, to give OEMs financial incentives like 4 per cent, or more, of Google Search revenues and 3-6 per cent of Google Play spending on their devices in return for ensuring Google exclusivity and the lack of apps with APK install rights.

There seems to be some overlap in what is claimed in Epic’s filing and what we know from a different lawsuit. Last month, a group of thirty seven attorneys general sued Google for abusing its power over Android OEMs to cement the Play Store’s dominance in Android app distribution. At the time, Google’s Wilson White responded:

We also built an app store, Google Play, that helps people download apps on their devices. If you don’t find the app you’re looking for in Google Play, you can choose to download the app from a rival app store or directly from a developer’s website. We don’t impose the same restrictions as other mobile operating systems do.

So it’s strange that a group of state attorneys general chose to file a lawsuit attacking a system that provides more openness and choice than others. This complaint mimics a similarly meritless lawsuit filed by the large app developer Epic Games, which has benefitted from Android’s openness by distributing its Fortnite app outside of Google Play.

White claims that “most Android devices ship with two or more app stores preloaded”, and cites Samsung’s Galaxy Store as an example. But Epic’s lawyers claim, beginning on page 45, that Google pressured Samsung into only allowing the Google Play and Samsung Galaxy Store on its phones, thereby scuttling a distribution deal with Epic for its own app store. This was a shift away from what the suit describes as Google’s intent since 2011 to altogether prevent Samsung from running its own app marketplace.

The results of Google’s deals with Samsung allegedly became part of “Project Agave”, thus forming the basis for the suit filed by the attorneys general this year.

Remember when Google used to put some effort into pretending that Android was open? Those were the days.