Google claims CCI order will lead to user exclusion, developers refute

Google claims CCI order will lead to user exclusion, developers refute
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In its first big public statement since challenging the Competition Commission of India’s (CCI) ₹1337.76 crore fine levied in October 2022, Google today said that complying with the order will lead to increased costs for app developers in the country and user exclusion. The company's claims were also refuted by large developers like MapmyIndia and IndusOS as well, who accused Google of contradictory and disingenuous claims.

In a blog post, Google reiterated claims it made in a Supreme Court submission earlier this week, saying that the order will lead to increase in prices of Android phones and stall the ecosystem’s growth in India.

“For a country like India, where the cost of adoption is the biggest barrier to digitisation, this has had profound implications. More users have incentivised more developers, and each of those developers achieve immediate scale by writing a single app for Android,” the post said.

The company claimed that the order “strike blows” to areas of safety, affordability and expanded user cases of smartphones. The post said that the order will “increase exposure to online harm and privacy risks”, claiming that ‘forked’ versions of Android aren’t as secure as the official version.

The CCI accused Google of abusing its dominant position in the market, and fined the company ₹1337.76 crore for the same. It said that terms in Google’s Mobile Application Distribution Agreement (MADA) licence, which it signs with handset makers, for the use of services like Play Store. The CCI said the licence creates “significant entry barriers” for competitors. “The agreement assures that the most prominent search entry points like search app, widget and chrome browser are pre-installed on Android devices,” the order said. It asked Google to decouple the pre-installation of its own apps to allow third-party app stores to be distributed through the Play Store.

The source code of the Android platform is available to everyone for free, as part of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). This is what allows companies like Samsung, Oppo, OnePlus, Xiaomi etc. to build their operating systems on top of Android. Forked versions of Android refer to OSs that are built on top of AOSP but without the Google services attached to them.

These additional Google services are offered through the Google Mobile Services (GMS) licence, which is not open sourced and is part of the MADA agreement. Through this licence, the company provides handset makers access to important functionalities, security patches etc. on their devices. For instance, the GMS licence is needed for an Android phone to automatically sync contacts through a Google account.

The blog post claims that forked versions of Android are not as secure as the Google version, and can expose users to predatory apps. “While Google holds itself accountable for the apps on Play Store and scans for malware as well compliance with local laws, the same checks may not be in place for apps sideloaded from other sources,” the company said.

Further, Google said that by complying with CCI’s order, equipment makers will have to take up the responsibility of delivering security and safety features, which will require them to invest extensively and in turn raise the price of handsets.

On the other hand, app developers will also face higher costs, according to Google, since they will have to write apps for multiple different versions, instead of a single consistent version of Android. Under the GMS licence, handsets have access to specific features that other apps can take advantage of. As a result, an app developer can build for Android and be ensured that their apps will not fail to deliver notifications or other features correctly on specific devices.

“They will no longer have the level playing field they have today with Android, and larger developers, who can support a wider range of incompatible forks, will be able to dominate the market based on their scale, rather than the quality of their product,” Google claims.

Developers have, however, refuted Google’s claims often. In a statement earlier in the day, Rakesh Deshmukh, Co-founder, CEO, Indus OS, a homegrown app store operator, said that Google’s claim is contradictory “as competition breeds innovation which only makes technology more affordable”.

“Google itself has pointed out that the prices of smartphone devices have dropped drastically over the last 5 years. This has been made possible only due to innovations in the field of mobile hardware. The CCI ruling against Google very clearly encourages software innovation, which will only help bring down the prices of smartphone devices, thus ensuring even further digital penetration as opposed to stalling the growth of the Android ecosystem by pushing up the device price point,” Deshmukh said.

He added that the CCI ruling against Google is a “step towards ushering in the next phase of digital revolution” in India.

Further, Rohan Verma, CEO of Executive Director of homegrown mapping firm MapMyIndia, also refuted Google’s claims as well. “The mobile revolution had to happen. They have made it that everything has to go through a Google service. This is not an open source world that they have created. This is Google’s Android, it’s not open source. It’s not Linux. We’re not living in an open source world that Google has created out of altruism,” he said.

“I think it’s ridiculous that they think they’re the only ones who can bring safety to users. Do they even have the business model to make users safe? Are the rest of the companies bad actors then? This is disingenuous and disappointing, and it’s them trying to create a fear psychosis,” he added, noting that MapMyIndia was removed from search results the day Google entered India, even though the company had been creating GPS-based maps for a much longer time than Google.

He also noted that Google’s agreements with handset makers bar those with GMS licences from making any other non-Google device, which stifles competition as well.

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