Google has been forced to open up Android to rival search engines and applications in Russia, after settling a two-year battle with competition authorities for 439m roubles (£6.2m).
The deal sets a new precedent for Google, which until now has resisted permitting the pre-installation of rival search engines and certain applications on to the world’s most popular operating system. In 2015, Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) ruled that the Android-maker was breaking the law and abusing its dominant position through restrictions on third-party manufacturers, fining Google 438m rubles (£6.2m) in August 2016.
The FAS said that Google will no longer demand exclusivity of its applications on Android devices sold in Russia and will not restrict the pre-installation of rival search engines and other applications. Google will also develop a tool allowing users to choose the default search engine on new and existing Android devices, a similar measure put in place by Microsoft for browser choice on Windows following antitrust action by the European Commission.
“Users will be able to change settings at any time and choose the default search engine which suits their needs,” the FAS said.
|Google settlement with Russian competition agency sees Android being opened up and a choice of default search engines given to users. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer
The original complaint against the Android-maker was brought by local rival Yandex, often referred to as Russia’s Google. The two firms have also reached a commercial agreement with that “provides new opportunities for Yandex to promote its search service within [Google’s browser] Chrome”.
“We are pleased to announce that we have now reached a commercial agreement with Yandex and a settlement with FAS that meets the interests of all parties,” Google said in a statement.
Yandex chief executive Arkady Volozh called the settlement “an important day for Russian consumers” as “millions of Russian Android users will be offered a choice of search engines”.
Alexander Shulgin, head of Yandex Russian operations, said he hoped the agreement will have implications for similar cases in Europe and elsewhere.
The deal is for a term of six years and nine months and was approved by a Russian arbitration court on Monday. Under the terms of the agreement, Google will still have to pay a total of 439m roubles (£6.2) in fines.
Igor Artemiev, head of the FAS, said: “We managed to find a balance between the necessity to develop the Android ecosystem and interests of third-party developers for promoting their mobile applications and services on Android-based devices. The settlement’s execution will have a positive effect on the market as a whole, while giving developers additional options for promoting their products.”
Google has faced scrutiny around the world for its practices regarding the licensing of Android. The mobile operating system, which is used on billions of devices and recently outpaced Microsoft’s Windows as the most used operating system on the internet, is broadly formed of two parts.
The first is a open-source core operation system called the Android Open Source Project, which anyone can use without a license. The second are Google’s services, which include the Google Play Store – the largest source of third-party applications available to the platform.
Google has long licensed the Play Store and its services with restrictions on the pre-installation and placement of certain elements on the homescreen, including the Google search bar and a selection of the company’s applications such as Gmail and Google Docs.
Users are free to modify the homescreen on first use but complainants including Yandex have argued that Google’s licensing restrictions have given its search engine and services an advantage over third parties through the power of being the default.The Guardian