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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 Tony Swash on 5/10/2011 11:46:01 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
It seems like Tony spends a lot of time searching for little known blogs that support his point of view - either that or he just writes the stuff himself. Linking to random wordpress blogs that no ones ever heard of certainly isn't authoritative or even really helpful.


I notice you don't actually attempt to refute any of the points made in the reasonably cogent article I linked to. The article makes a clear argument based on Google's actions and business model for a certain sort of analysis of Google, one considerably less gullible and starry eyed than many around here, and you haven't actually responded to any of them. Why?

What about Google using compatibility as 'a club' to make OEMs do what they want. Is that not being evil?

Come Google fans - tell me why this is OK?


RE: We have all been here before
By nafhan on 5/10/2011 12:42:11 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, what I was trying to say is: make your point in your post here (you know, that's what forums are for), or if you can't manage that, at least link to articles from reputable sources. I'm not going to waste my time reading a random multi-page article of dubious credibility.
quote:
What about Google using compatibility as 'a club' to make OEMs do what they want. Is that not being evil?
To start with, I always felt like "do no evil" was a ridiculous corporate motto/slogan. Is using "compatibility as a club" good for the Android ecosystem? Probably (at least some of the time). Is it bad for some OEM's? Yes, but again, only some of the time. Is it "evil"? I'd say it's a business decision - not killing babies or something. So, no it's certainly not "evil" as far as I understand the term.


RE: We have all been here before
By Tony Swash on 5/10/2011 2:07:23 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
Actually, what I was trying to say is: make your point in your post here (you know, that's what forums are for), or if you can't manage that, at least link to articles from reputable sources. I'm not going to waste my time reading a random multi-page article of dubious credibility.


You can't be bothered to read a short few hundred words article on topic but you do have time to tell us you are not going to read it.

Covering your eyes does not make the bogey man go away:)


RE: We have all been here before
By nafhan on 5/10/2011 3:01:32 PM , Rating: 2
Yep.


"I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For [Paramount] to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!" -- Movie Director Michael Bay














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