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Posts from the ‘Menacing Monopoly’ Category

9
Jun

Analyst: Google plans to take Android proprietary

Surprise, surprise:

Google is preparing to seize control of Android with its own proprietary closed-source version of the mobile operating system, an analyst claims.

Technology analyst Richard Windsor says that a highly confidential internal project is underway to rewrite the ART runtime, removing any lingering dependencies from the freely downloadable open source AOSP (Android Open Source Project) code base.

This is a long-standing theme for Windsor, who most recently raised it here.

If Windsor’s right, Google Android will soon be just another fully-fledged proprietary operating system like its rival iOS (as well as Windows Phone and BlackBerry). Google has long pretended to be a company that believes in free software, but the truth is, Google is a proprietary software company that exploits free software and the free software community.

Windsor’s prediction, if fulfilled, will be the latest evidence of that.

30
May

Antitrust lawyer: Don’t Hand Our TVs Over to Google

Jonathan Kanter has a must-read column in today’s New York Times:

For years, Google has been jockeying to control the nation’s TVs. If, thanks to the F.C.C., Google succeeds, it will get access to the real prize: the data that flows through these boxes. The company wants that information to help it sell advertising. (Disclosure: I represent companies opposed to Google on other issues in the United States and Europe.)

The F.C.C.’s proposal would give Google free access to the raw TV programming data it needs to power its search engine for TV. In effect, Google could use the data to become the modern version of the program guide, connecting users to the TV shows and movies that Google’s search algorithms determine are relevant.

Kanter’s not opposed to new rulemaking allow set-top box innovation. But Kanter correctly observes that any new rules should not be written by Google, for Google, or to Google’s advantage.

If the F.C.C. provides Google with the data it needs to build its search-based set-top, it should take significant steps to prevent Google from continuing its questionable conduct. At a minimum, the F.C.C. should require Google to commit to search neutrality, transparency, adherence to privacy standards and restrictions on anticompetitive bundling. Without these conditions, a proposal meant to increase innovation may well stifle it.

LGB concurs and thanks Mr. Kanter for contributing this op-ed piece.

19
Aug

Big Brother Google gets into the business of making and selling routers

When it comes to hardware and software, there’s pretty much no device category or software segment the Monster of Mountain View doesn’t want to play in:

Google is making a Wi-Fi router as part of its ambition to provide better Internet connections that make it easier for people to access its digital services and see more of its online advertising.

Pre-orders for the $199 wireless router, called OnHub, can be made beginning Tuesday at Google’s online store, Amazon.com and Walmart.com. The device will go on sale in stores in the U.S. and Canada in late August or early September.

Google is touting the cylinder-shaped OnHub as a leap ahead in a neglected part of technology.

The Mountain View, California, company is promising its wireless router will be sleeker, more reliable, more secure and easier to use than other long-established alternatives made by the Arris Group, Netgear, Apple and other hardware specialists. Google teamed up with networking device maker TP-Link to build OnHub.

This is supposed to be an Associated Press news article? It reads more like a press release!

This being a Google product, it comes with spyware built right in.

Google is pledging not to monitor any of the information transmitted over OnHub except for visits to its search engine or other services, such as YouTube or Gmail, with the user’s online privacy controls set to permit the data collection.

That’s a worthless pledge. Google predictably exempts itself from its own privacy promise, then says, don’t worry, we won’t spy on you when you visit non-Google websites.

We here at LGB prefer not to be spied on by Google at all, and that’s why we don’t use any Google hardware or any of Google’s online offerings.

Good software already exists for upgrading routers, like DD-WRT, for those unsatisfied by what’s provided by the manufacturers of their networking hardware. Most Internet users get their router from their Internet service provider and won’t have any desire to pay Google for the privilege of having a new router that phones home to Mountain View. Tech-savvy users are the only conceivable market for OnHub, and they already have better options right now.

POSTSCRIPT: Ars Technica has a brutal review of the OnHub, which it calls a “mystery box”.

23
Apr

Google becomes a wireless carrier – or more specifically, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)

The Monster of Mountain View has entered another market. Now it wants to be your wireless carrier:

Google has just launched the site for “Project Fi,” its heavily rumored MVNO service. The service combines Sprint and T-Mobile along with Wi-Fi and will seamlessly switch between the networks. Google has an interactive coverage map here.

The up-front pricing seems pretty standard. It requires a “Fi Basics” plan, which is $20 a month for unlimited talk and texting, plus taxes. Data is an additional $10 per gigabyte a month. So a $20 basics plan plus 3GB a month would be $50, $5 more than Straight Talk charges for the same thing—but that’s only if you actually use the data. The unique aspect of the billing is that you “never pay for unused data.” Your account gets credited, in money, for data you don’t use. The example shows an unused 0.6GB of data gets you $6 back, so credits aren’t limited to 1GB increments; overages work the same way, with no extra fees. Google also allows Wi-Fi tethering.

For the time being, the “service” is only available to people who buy a Nexus 6 device through Google. And it’s worth noting that Google did not build its own network infrastructure to become a wireless carrier – it’s piggybacking on T-Mobile and Sprint,  the two smaller national carriers, with both companies receiving financial compensation in return. But, as with past Google experiments, it’s the beginning of something Google wants to make bigger.

It’s not enough for Google to be dominant in search and mobile advertising. It wants to dominate in every area that it can. Google wants to be the provider of your browser, desktop operating system, mobile operating system, Internet service, DNS service, email, and everything else.

Jackdaw’s founder has some observations on what Google may trying to accomplish in the near term with Project Fi.

14
Apr

Europe preparing to go after Google

Finally!

The European Commission is said to be planning to charge Google with using its dominant position in online search to favor the company’s own online services over others, in what would be one of the biggest antitrust cases here since antitrust regulators went after Microsoft.

Europe’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, is expected to make an announcement that Google has abused its dominant position on Wednesday in Brussels, according to two people who spoke on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. government didn’t have the cajones to effectively stand up to Google, but it looks like Europe is ready to confront the Monster of Mountain View with antitrust charges. This is very good news, if true.

21
Mar

FTC staff wanted to go after Google, accidentally disclosed documents show

The Federal Trade Commission should have listened to its staff:

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday faced renewed questions about its handling of its antitrust investigation into Google, after documents revealed that an internal report had recommended stronger action.

The 2012 report, from the agency’s bureau of competition, said that the agency should sue the Internet search company for anticompetitive practices, according to several people who saw the report but would speak about it only under the condition of anonymity. At least one other staff report, they said, recommended not to pursue a lawsuit. In early 2013, the agency unanimously voted not to bring charges after an investigation.

Google’s critics and competitors on Thursday jumped on the news, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, arguing that the F.T.C. had failed to take appropriate action. They called on Europe, which is now looking into the company’s practices, to pursue tough regulations.

European regulators must not fail to make the same mistakes that the Federal Trade Commission did. They must aggressively discipline Google for any violations of privacy and antitrust laws that they find through a comprehensive, meaningful investigation.

24
Feb

Google buys Softcard; shutdown immiment

The Monster of Mountain View just had another meal:

Google has inked a distribution deal with the biggest wireless carriers in the U.S. to get the Google Wallet payments app pre-installed on their phones. At the same time, Google is buying technology from Softcard, the mobile payments app backed by the same carriers.

The deal will see Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T pre-install Google Wallet on their Android phones in the U.S. later this year. Google Wallet allows shoppers to tap their phones to pay at checkout in some brick-and-mortar stores in much the same way Apple Pay does. The move also involves Google buying some intellectual property from Softcard, formerly known as ISIS. It doesn’t appear that any Softcard employees are joining Google as part of the deal.

In a blog post, Softcard said its users can use their mobile payments app for now. But I can’t imagine the wireless carriers behind the Softcard joint venture would agree to this deal if they planned to continue to invest in their own app. Sounds like game over for Softcard, a very expensive multi-year initiative that was essentially a flop for the wireless companies involved.

Softcard never really had a future, considering Apple has planned on entering the mobile payment space for sometime. iOS is Apple’s platform, and Apple wants to both control it and monetize it. It wasn’t about to let America’s three largest mobile carriers develop the mobile wallet that would be prevalent among iOS users.

Google feels the same way about controlling Android, of course. The carriers have evidently decided that since Apple doesn’t need or want their technology, they’ll at least recoup some money by selling it to Google. Google will probably shut it down within a few weeks, and that will be the end of Softcard.

POSTSCRIPT: Softcard will be dead by the end of March:

Softcard is dead

 

Goodbye, Softcard.

27
Nov

European Parliament: Google should be broken up

Google has gotten too big for its own good and the good of everyone else, European leaders say:

The European Parliament has voted in favour of breaking Google up, as a solution to complaints that it favours its own services in search results.

Politicians have no power to enforce a break-up, but the landmark vote sends a clear message to European regulators to get tough on the net giant.

US politicians and trade bodies have voiced their dismay at the vote.

The ultimate decision will rest with EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

She has inherited the anti-competitive case lodged by Google’s rivals in 2010.

Google has around 90% market share for search in Europe and rivals asked the commission to investigate four areas:

  • The manner in which Google displays its own vertical search services compared with other, competing products
  • How Google copies content from other websites – such as restaurant reviews – to include within its own services
  • The exclusivity Google has to sell advertising around the search terms people use
  • Restrictions on advertisers from moving their online ad campaigns to rival search engines

Emphasis is LGB’s.

This is a smart and commendable move on the part of the European Parliament. Someone has to stand up to the increasingly powerful Monster of Mountain View. The government of the country where Google is based is unwilling to do anything more than slap Google on the wrist every now and then (usually when privacy violations become too egregious to ignore), so it’s good that Europe is stepping up.

There is ample precedent for large companies being broken up. The United States government forced the breakup of AT&T, Standard Oil, and other large firms during the twentieth century. Microsoft came close to being broken up at the end of the 1990s and is used to responding to antitrust challenges.

Google is increasingly everyone’s competitor. Microsoft has known this for a long time; Apple and Amazon have only more recently begun to appreciate how grand Google’s ambitions and aims are. Google wants to be the dominant provider of search, email, social networking, DNS resolution, maps, domain names, web browsing software, mobile phone software, cloud storage, and a zillion other things.

Google has gotten too big and the world would benefit from its breakup.

21
Nov

Mozilla *finally* ditches Google as Firefox’s default search engine

This should have happened in 2011, when Mozilla and Google last extended their deal. Unfortunately, for some lame reason, Mozilla’s leadership at the time simply didn’t seem to appreciate that Google was intent on siphoning away their users and dominating browser market share with Chrome just as it has dominated search. But better late than never:

Mozilla is breaking up with Google and switching to Yahoo as the default search provider for its popular Firefox web browser.

Mozilla’s partnership with Google had been rocky for years, so its end was not entirely unexpected. Google is America’s favorite search provider, with about two-thirds of the market, according to comScore, but it also created and actively promotes its own web browser, Chrome.

Mozilla, meanwhile, has sought to create its own mobile phone software, competing with Google’s Android, and has tried to distinguish itself from rivals by committing to customer privacy technologies that are opposed by Google, Facebook, Yahoo and just about every other major website that sells advertising

As a result of this deal, the world’s three most widely used web browsers will all have different default search engines.

Google naturally has its own search engine set as the default in Chrome, although it is changeable (Bing and Yahoo are the only other built-in choices). Firefox will now have Yahoo as the default, and is adding DuckDuckGo as one of the built-in options, like Apple. Internet Explorer naturally uses Bing as its default search engine, and like Chrome, the default can be changed.

Years ago, such favoritism by Microsoft would have drawn far more scorn and scrutiny, but at least when it comes to search, Microsoft is the underdog and Google the giant. Internet Explorer still has plenty of browser market share, but it’s down from what it used to be. The latest version of Internet Explorer is only available for Windows 7 and Windows 8, not XP or Vista. Amusingly, up to date versions of Firefox and Chrome can be installed on all four.

Apple, meanwhile, has been increasingly moving away from Google. Apple is using Bing to power Siri and search results for Spotlight. Google remains the default in Safari for the time being, likely due to a contractual arrangement. When Apple inevitably ditches Google as the default for search in Safari, that will just leave Opera as the only other browser maker to use Google by default. Opera would be wise to do what Mozilla and Apple are doing and choose a different default search provider.

9
Sep

Google facing increasing skepticism, hostility in Europe

Europeans are finally starting to wise up to the danger of allowing one company to dominate their lives online. From today’s New York Times cover story:

Across Europe, Google has been under fire, reflecting the broader challenges facing American technology companies. Google, fairly or not, has become a glaring proxy for criticism of an intrusive American government and concern over America’s unmatched technology dominance.

On Monday, things grew worse. Regulators pushed the company to give up more in an antitrust settlement — demanding that Google make additional changes to its secret sauce, the search algorithm.

When Google initially settled with regulators in February, it emerged largely unscathed, agreeing to make modest adjustments to its search formula and avoiding a fine. Now, the deal is in jeopardy. If Google does not acquiesce, regulators could toss out the settlement and bring formal charges, which could prompt billions of dollars in penalties and major changes to its operations.

It’s about time. Google has been cutting favorable deals for a long time to escape litigation to hold it accountable for its privacy breaches and monopolistic business practices. It sounds like regulators in Europe have had enough. Now, if only federal officials in the United States would follow suit.

Google, as several observers pointed out in the article, is no longer a startup with a cute search engine – it’s a mammoth company with aspirations to dominate the Internet. Its most important offering remains its search engine, but it has expanded into email, maps, document storage, domains, videos, and many other markets. It distributes its own browser, operating system, and smartphone platform. It offers one-stop shopping for the NSA, which many Europeans are now well aware of thanks to Edward Snowden’s revelations.

European regulators are smart to use what leverage they have to rein in the Monster of Mountain View. The time to act is now, before Google becomes an even greater threat to privacy and choice online than it already is.