Google sidesteps lawsuit over its Android apps

A lawsuit alleging that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) was harming consumers by forcing handset makers to use its own Android apps as the default options in smartphones has been withdrawn by the plaintiffs, an action that appears to remove a cloud over Google's Android strategy.

The two plaintiffs, Gary Feitelson and Daniel McKee, withdrew their case against Google on Friday after U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman in February ruled that they hadn't shown that they had been forced to pay higher prices due to Google's strategy. Lawyers for the plaintiffs declined to comment, according to Reuters.

The case centered on whether and how Google forces its Android hardware partners to use Google Search, Maps and other services as default applications. Google contends that agreements it strikes with smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and HTC on Android that include those provisions are not anti-competitive. The lawsuit, filed last year, alleged that the way in which Google licenses Android to smartphone companies is unfair to rival services like Microsoft's Bing search engine.

Google had argued that its agreements didn't prevent customers from using other apps besides the ones it provides. "Since Android's introduction, greater competition in smartphones has given consumers more choices at lower prices," Google spokesman Aaron Stein wrote in an email to Reuters Friday.

The issue was discussed previously in documents that came to light as part of a legal battle between Google and Oracle. The documents, filed in that case in 2012 and publicly revealed in 2014, showed that that there are strings attached to OEMs that want to use key Google services as part of their Android devices. The documents reveal that Google has required handset makers to make Google Search the Android device's default search engine, have a series of apps preinstalled, and even place Google apps in certain locations on the device.

According to the documents, OEMs must sign a so-called "Mobile Application Distribution Agreement" with Google to get access to Google's apps and services. The documents state that devices may only be distributed if all the specified Google apps are pre-installed, that Google Search be made default search provider, and that Search and the Play Store icons appear "immediately adjacent" to the home screen. Other Google apps must appear no more than one screen swipe away.

Although Google no longer faces this particular lawsuit, the company's lawyers likely will remain busy. For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, the European Union in the next few weeks may file an antitrust action against Google for its online search results. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also reportedly considered a similar action against Google, but reportedly dropped plans to move against the search provider.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this WSJ article

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