Google has a good and a bad problem in Europe. It has 72.4 percent of the smartphone market share (according to Kantar) which is a ‘nice to have’ but not so nice when it attracts attention from Europe’s notoriously muscular competition authorities. It’s now facing new accusations of anti-competitive behaviour in mobile, (it’s separately being scrutinised for its dominance of online search).
Aptoide — a Portuguese company that runs a third party apps marketplace — claims Google is abusing its dominant position to push users away from app stores that compete with Google Play. Yesterday it filed a complain with European Union regulators.
It claims that Google creates obstacles for users to install third-party app stores, links essential services with Google Play (thus blocking, again, these third-party app stores), and blocks access to Aptoide websites in its Chrome Web browser.
Paulo Trezentos, Aptoide’s co-founder and CEO, says they are “struggling to grow, even to survive” because he claims Google is systematically creating obstacles for users to install third-party app stores.
Aptoide says it conducted a small focus group of users which found, it took 10 steps to install the Aptoide app store on Android version 2.1 and 80% of the users could do it. Version 2.3 required 13 steps and 45% managed it. Version 4.0 required 14 steps and only 20% completed the installation. So – if this is true – it looks like Google is intentionally screwing over 3rd party app stores, contrary to its so-called open ecosystem policies.
Any new installation requires “unknown sources” approvals. A user clicks a box to allow the installation of apps from sources that are not from Google Play. In versions 2.1 and 2.3, this request was at the top of the Application settings screen. In version 4.0, it’s lower down the screen amongst over 10 more options, according to Aptoide.
That’s pretty persuasive, assuming the same results could come out of a blind trial.
Aptoide claims to have million unique monthly users, and want to join with other independent app stores to fight Google.
Google is declining to comment but the European Commission has confirmed is has received the complaint.
Google already faces antitrust complaints from Nokia, Microsoft, Oracle and more over dozen others about anticompetitive behaviour over its use of Android to promote its own apps. They complain that manufacturers of Android smartphones are required to preload Google apps and give them prominent default placement on the phone. Well, admittedly you’d hardly to expect it to do anything else.
Now, the “FairSearch” organization, backed by Microsoft and Oracle among others, has already complained about Google’s bundling of its search services with Android.
But the Aptoide complaint is considered more significant in that it’s from a startup which is in direct competition with Google – in the past this has tended to lead to an inquiry more than a trade group consisting of large tech companies like Oracle.
EU antitrust chief Joaquín Almunia said last month that his agency was considering opening a formal probe into the Android operating system, but it has not year done so. Google has said it is working with the Commission on the issue.
Meanwhile, Google is under pressure from French and German politicians who want more regulation over its behaviour.