New York Times reporter Steve Lohr wrote about growing antitrust concerns over the legality of how Google operates in mobile on the newspaper’s Bits Blog today. Lohr writes that Android is a “gateway technology” for search and mobile advertising and that there are concerns Google could use its “free” Android software as a “sword and a shield to protect its dominance in search and grab an unfair advantage in new mobile services.”
The post highlights a lawsuit filed by Skyhook, an innovative location-based service for mobile phones, alleging that Google interfered with Skyhook’s contracts with handset makers to keep the potential competitor from having the ability to offer Android users an alternative to Google for location-based services on Android phones.
According to Lohr’s blog post:
In 2010, Skyhook, according to documents in the case, reached agreements with two smartphone makers, Samsung and Motorola Mobility, to use the Skyhook service on their Android phones. But after protests from Google, both smartphone makers terminated their contracts with Skyhook.
Skyhook’s case raises important questions about the nature of competition in mobile, and Google’s treatment of Skyhook is emblematic of how the search giant has treated others who might compete with it for users in mobile services. Dan Morrill, a manager on Google’s Android team, has said about Google’s control over access to Android that the company is using “compatibility as a club to make them do things we want.”
Law enforcement officials around the world – including the European Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and six state attorneys general – are looking closely at whether Google’s anti-competitive mobile business practices violate antitrust laws. These officials must also consider how Google’s growing control over the mobile landscape will affect the way the market evolves, and the level of access smaller innovative companies like Skyhook have to put new products in front of consumers.