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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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By sprockkets on 5/9/2011 10:49:27 PM , Rating: 4
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?

It's really quite simple. You spend $$$ making Android, and the only way Google gets any form of $$$ back is when people use their ecosystem on the phone.

You want to use another app? OK, don't expect our help, don't expect priority support, and don't expect to leverage our brand.

Why should Google make an OS, then have the OEMs and carriers run with it and leave Google with no income?

Oh wait, they can, they just can't call it a Google phone.

Why the outrage? Those OEMs can do whatever they want with Skyhook, on Android, but not Google phones.

Accept the simple reality: Android isn't GPL and thus isn't required to release the source, and Google's apps aren't open source period. This "open" BS really needs to stop. There are about 10 different "Linux" based phones and all go almost nowhere because they have no one making a standard to build on, and while Google is "fragmented" it still is pretty good compared to what came before it.

Comparing this behavior to apple is ridiculous. Apple patents and design patents everything then sues third party makers of mag safe power adapters for their laptops, sues over the "look" of their phones and practically is suing the world over their damn gestures. They require royalties on 3rd party ipod accessories. They take the concept of DLNA, make it proprietary to only work with their devices.

RE: uh..
By rudy on 5/11/2011 11:27:32 AM , Rating: 2
Why not google effectively did that with the linux OS they used to make their OS. This is the problem with the whole linux model, a whole bunch of people nievely build a product with this whole idea of open and free then big companies like apple and google take their product and sell it for no other objective other than they did not have to build large parts of it so it cut their costs. Then as large companies do they only advertise the good or try to play off of it. Never mentioning that nothing is going back to the original creators.

I don't really care but when are these linux guys going to open their eyes and realize that it is stupid to support these big companies just because they used linux as a base. In the end they will all remove enough standardization so they can lock people into their model.

RE: uh..
By sprockkets on 5/11/2011 12:08:32 PM , Rating: 2
FYI those big companies like IBM and RedHat do all the major linux kernel development. But they benefit from doing so, so it is a nice relationship on how that works.

Google's code is too specific to return back to the main kernel tree, but it is available for all to use.

RE: uh..
By Lazarus Dark on 5/11/2011 10:48:53 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. No one is stopping Skyhook from selling thier apps to android customers. But Android is Googles product and they have every right to make sure their product is not ruined by crapware from the factory. Yes, they need the location data too, but they cant afford to have Androids reputation messed up because of this crapware. Imagine large groups of customers saying Androids sucks because of this. Google has to protect their product.

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