Evil Android: Google Behaving Badly

Google and Skyhook have been tussling over IP, and in a court filing we've learned a surprising insight into Google's protective actions over Android. Looks like Facebook didn't need to bother with its smear campaign.

evil droid

Google and Skyhook have been tussling over IP, but in a court filing we've gained a surprising insight into Google's protective actions over Android. "Open" just ain't the word.

Last year Skyhook sued Google for interfering with its business and infringing on IP it owned. Skyhook is one of the clever techs behind Wi-Fi approximated geolocation (one tech that makes A-GPS on smartphones so powerful). Skyhook basically alleged that Google strong-armed its smartphone makers into using Google's own systems for geolocation protocols in Android, bullying Skyhook out of the market to the tune of millions in lost revenues and stealing its IP. This story by itself is fascinating, given the spotlight thrown on smartphone geolocation at the moment due to the misleading "locationgate" affair, but in the court documents pertaining to Skyhook's suit, Google has revealed all sorts of juicy facts.

First up, according to the court records, Google has a unique licensing agreement with each of its Android makers, and each license has an expiration data. Instantly this smudges Google's "open" copybook, its suggestion that in comparison to peer smartphone systems Android is not closed. Basically if a maker angers Google in some way, there's no reason Google couldn't choose to not renew a contract--effectively shutting off access to Android. The individual deals also highlight that Android is easy to fragment, a fact that's underlined by the brand new Netflix app, which is only available for five different Android handsets.

Next comes the actual bullying of Motorola that sparked the Skyhook case. Motorola had contracted with Skyhook to provide location data for the Droid X, but Google ordered Motorola to stop using the tech as it could "contaminate" Google's own geolocation database (that one built up by recording Wi-Fi signals during Street View data collection...you know: the data stealing that's got Google all tangled in privacy violation cases the world over). When Motorola alleged Skyhook's integration into Droid X actually passed Google's own compatibility tests, Google ordered a "stop ship" ruling that would've prevented Motorola selling the phone--and Motorola capitulated. Noting that Samsung then quickly shipped the Galaxy S with Skyhook enabled, Motorola complained about discrimination--only to be told it "should not be concerned" with other OEMs and their phones.

What Skyhook is suggesting is that Google uses its contract terms to force OEMs to bend to its will--however unpredictable that will is. The use of strong-arm tactics with Motorola also highlights that Google could choose to do the same over any other technical aspect of Android.

The maneuvers remind us of the stink that kicked up when Microsoft forced Internet Explorer on the world to suppress competing browsers, or the mess caused by Intel bullying its OEM partners into ditching support for rival AMD chips in their shipping products--both events sparking multi-billion-dollar lawsuits.

And then this week there's news that Google is close to settling with the Department of Justice over a criminal probe into how it made millions in profits from online pharmaceutical ads that violate U.S. laws. Google is due to hand over around $500 million as a punishment, but this is unlikely to help any consumers who were impacted by the ads, to their detriment.

Also fresh in the news is a book called Search and Destroy: Why You Can't Trust Google Inc. that alleges the firm routinely and decisively flouts regulations and social norms with what it does with private user data.

This all, when considered in the same thought, really does lead to a new conclusion about Google, the popular search giant with a model T-rex as its mascot: Despite its founding MO, Google seems to have at least some evil in its DNA. Perhaps Facebook needn't have bothered with its embarrassing and low-brow smear campaign; Google may be busy smearing itself.

[Image: Flickr user newhaircut]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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