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Google Behind Closed Doors: Why There's Reason to Worry About a Google-Motorola Monopoly

Steven Blum
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(Image: FOSS Patents)

Does Google give preferential treatment to certain OEMs? The answer, according to recently-released court documents, indicate "hell yes they do." As part of the Oracle case, evidence the search giant hoped to withhold was found by FOSS Patents Blog that indicates Google grants early access to hardware partners that oblige by their rules. This evidence suggests that Google's Android ecosystem is nowhere near as open as the company would like you to believe, and that Google engages in practices that could be called "anti-competitive" when it comes to releasing new technology.

The document, obtained by FOSS Patents writer Florian Mueller, includes a section in which Google writes, "Do not develop in the open. Instead, make source code available after innovation is complete." In the next section, Google writes, "Give access to the software to partners who build and distribute devices to our specification."  

The document is especially relevent in light of Google's recent acquistion of Motorola. As Florian Mueller writes in his blog Foss Patents, "If Google already intended to give privileges access to Motorola in the past, how can anyone seriously believe that if the aquisition of Motorola Mobility was closed, a wholly owned Google subsidary named  Motorola Mobility would not enjoy key privileges over its competitors?" 

But early access is only one of the reasons Android OEMS might be concerned about the Motorola-Google deal. With Motorola under their gaze, Google could also start to pump out impossibly cheap Android phones, subsidized not only by network operators but buy the device maker itself. The reasoning goes a bit like this; since Google's business model is all about strengthening their advertising-financed online services, it would be in their best interests to lock as many users to its services as possible. Even if they lose money in the manufacturing, they would gain it back (and then some) when Android users utilize their services.

As another internal Google document in the Oracle case revealed:

"Android isn't a new product to monetize; it's a new medium to drive monetization on existing products."

With these documents in the open, Google is likely going to find it hard to convince Open Handset Alliance members, and antitrust investigators, that the Motorola acquisition won't lead to complete Google monopolization.  

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  • Sam Buchbinder Sep 8, 2011 Link

    This isn't news. We've always known that Google played favorites with their Nexus devices AND that their ultimate goal was to have Google search on as many devices as possible. What WILL be news is when the Gov. decides that this practice is anti-competitive. So far, they haven't.

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  • Michael Heller Sep 8, 2011 Link

    Maybe instead of just copying the bias from the original article, you should try considering the facts: Google has always had the lead device strategy, and at the time of this filing the last two companies to benefit from it were Motorola and Verizon with the XOOM. Before that it was Samsung and the Nexus S, HTC Nexus One, Motorola DROID, and HTC G1. Next up will be the Samsung Nexus Prime and Verizon again. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Motorola purchase, and it's nothing new.

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  • Sam Buchbinder Sep 8, 2011 Link

    I agree, Michael, but don't you think that, in the future, it's possible Google will use Motorola to pump out cheap phones that no one else can compete with? They might stand more to gain from doing so than encouraging an open ecosystem. After all, if their goal is to get Google on as many phones as possible, why wouldn't they try anything to accomplish this? Not talking this year, but maybe in 1 or 2..

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  • Michael Heller Sep 8, 2011 Link

    Not at all. What would Google have to gain by competing against itself? The main way Google makes money, on Android and in general, is advertising. More connected devices, means more advertising, and more money. Aside from that, more connected devices means more Market revenue from app/game/book/movie sales. There is no way that Google sacrifices that to make their own devices. Motorola can't replace the tons of Android devices that get pushed out by ZTE, Samsung, HTC and other manufacturers, so Google would just be cannibalizing its own market. I see no evidence that suggests Google bought Motorola for anything more than its patents and TV set-top box manufacturing. I can't imagine any benefit to Google by alienating its dozens of hardware partners by pushing Android through Motorola.

    However, I can imagine Google pushing free phones through Motorola to areas that still aren't connected to the Internet. I can definitely imagine Google flooding South America and Africa with free Moto/Android handsets. More people connected to the web is more money for Google, and that's a huge untapped market.

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