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Emails reveal manager admitting that his firm uses Android compatibility "as a club" against competitors

Google Inc.'s (GOOG) day in court with Skyhook, Inc. took a decidedly ugly turn this week when the court published internal emails from Google's ranks.

In one juicy snippet Android Open-Source & Compatibility Program Manager Dan Morrill writes, "[W]e are using compatibility as a club to make them [Android hardware partners] do things we want."

I.  Google -- Not So Open

If several angry small service providers are to believed, Android is as closed as the legendary Apple, Inc. (AAPLiOS closed garden or worse.  The disgruntled firms claim that Google wields compatibility as a sword to crush rivals while maintaining a public image that it's "open".

In Skyhook's case the company signed a deal in April with Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (005930) and Motorola Mobility Solutions, Inc. (MMI) to put its location-aware services on their devices.  The company made a unique product that offered advanced location tracking employing a mix of GPS, cell towers, and Wi-Fi signals to pinpoint a user's exact location.  The deal would have been a blockbuster opportunity for the small, enterprising company.

That's when Google stepped in.

Recalls CEO Ted Morgan, "After we announced our deal with Motorola, Google went crazy."

Google, upset about the threat to its own service, reportedly threatened its hardware partners by opening investigations into their compatibility compliance, which could lead to them being unable to make and sell new or existing Android handsets.  Both companies meekly bowed to Google's threats, severing their contracts with Skyhook in July.

II. Smacked With a Lawsuit

Outraged, Skyhook filed suit in Massachusetts Superior Court.

But there's more to the story.  The emails reveal that much like Apple, Google's fundamental argument for disallowing third party competitors was that they would offer inferior or confusing alternatives to customers.

Steve Lee, an Android product manager, ordered tests conducted which showed Google's own free service worked better than Skyhook's in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Mr. Lee wrote an email to fellow managers warning that letting Skyhook continue to operate endangered Google's own operations.

He said that even though he believed evidence showed Google's own service to be superior, that the Motorola and Samsung contracts might convince other phone makers otherwise.  They might ditch Google's free service for Skyhook.  He writes, "That would be awful for Google because it will cut off our ability to continue collecting data to maintain and improve our location database."

III. Mountain View Giant Covers Its Tracks Carefully

Clearly Google's management grew concerned that their email conversations might get pulled into court as their efforts to kill Skyhook stepped up.  Patrick Brady, a partner manager at Google, replied to a colleague offering to send him some details on Skyhook, stating, "PLEASE DO NOT! Thread-kill and talk to me off-line with any questions."

Due to Google's apparent efforts to cover its tracks -- a lesson perhaps learned by the Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) blockbuster federal court case of a decade prior -- there's less concrete proof that Google employees were willfully abusing their dominant position.

But in crushing Skyhook, this appears to be exactly what happened -- regardless of their intentions.

Perhaps the greatest irony in the case is that Apple, often demonized as a closed, totalitarian device maker, actually treated Skyhook with greater respect.  While Apple reportedly was not fond of Skyhook's technology popping up on its devices in first party form, it appreciated the potential of the technology and licensed in for use in the iPhone and iPad.  Apple appears to be Skyhook's primary source of revenue, after Google crushed the pending Android deals. 

If Skyhook's sob story is to be believed, one has to wonder how much farther from reality Google's public image of openness could be.  The company is accused of abusing its dominant position to crush small foes and maintain a closed garden.  And that's not to mention the fact that the latest build of its "open source" operating system is closed source.  What is happening to Google?



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RE: We have all been here before
By Samus on 5/9/2011 9:18:43 PM , Rating: 2
This has all happened before, and it will happen again, and again, and again, and again, and again....


By snakeInTheGrass on 5/9/2011 11:16:28 PM , Rating: 2
Apple makes all the rules on its platform, deciding what is allowable in its (Steve's?) eyes. Google does that too, but also collects and uses as much of your personal information for non-stop advertising while allowing crapware installs on Android devices, because Android users are 'the product', as consumers are generally called in the advertising industry.

I personally know which walled garden I prefer - the one that isn't full of crap. For Google execs like Gundotra to sit there spewing about the evil of Apple (1984!) is just rich. Yeah, somehow Google is an improvement. Lol.

That's not to say Apple doesn't strongarm and do whatever it wants, it's just that the inevitable side effect of the competing business model of a licensed OS across multiple hardware vendors always seems to involve those manufacturers trying to make up their thin margins by selling 'space' in their installs for crap. And of course since Google isn't charging for the OS, they need to make it up with more ads, which guarantees their #1 priority is lots of adware / data mining of the users as well.


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