Google is again in the spotlight for anticompetitive practices by the US Department of Justice, this time over Google Maps and its forced bundling with other Google services in cars that incorporate the giant’s Android Automotive platform. technology, like those of Volvo and Polestar. Car manufacturers are prohibited from replacing Google Maps with a competing navigation service, such as Apple Maps or Waze, which happens to be owned by Google.
The Justice Department investigation was originally filed in late 2020, but didn’t receive much attention from lawmakers until recently. Reuters reported Wednesday. And while software embedded in cars is certainly a big part of the government’s ire, the repercussions are likely to go far beyond the auto industry. From the article:
Specifically, the department is reviewing Google’s requirement that if a website or app uses Google technology, such as Google’s location search, the website or app developer cannot use maps. or other technologies developed by Google’s rivals, the two sources said.
Basically, anyone who wants to integrate Google Maps – whether General Motors or an independent developer – must also use the Google Assistant, Google Search, Google Calendar and Mountain View’s range of other services. It’s all or nothing. Google’s official stance is that it enforces the flat rate to ensure a smooth user experience, and partners can add another browsing service. Besides to Maps, if they wish.
There’s a long history of Google’s practices here and the government’s drive to eradicate them, going back to United States v Microsoft Corp. (the 1998 releasenot the more recent edition). The subject of this lawsuit was Microsoft’s decision to pre-install Internet Explorer on Windows. Microsoft argued that it did this out of concern for the user experience, much like Google did today. Lawmakers, on the other hand, identified it as a strategic move to stifle the distribution of a promising competing Internet browser: Netscape. You don’t hear much about Netscape anymore, do you?
“Because of antitrust enforcement, that’s why we have Google,” said Gary Ryback, who represented Netscape during that time. The ring in a 2018 article that you should definitely check out if you’re interested in the legal precedent at play here.
Ironically, Google now finds itself in the same position – a position it already knows well. In 2019, the European Union asked Google to ask its users in the region of choose your default search engine when you turn on an Android phone for the very first time. This is a problem that has arisen and will continue to arise as long as the software and the companies that distribute it exist.
Now you might be wondering what other mapping services apart from Google and Apple you would like to use. This is a fair criticism; it is also precisely why antitrust laws like this exist. Google Maps became the leader in this space thanks to continuous development ensured by a perpetually thriving captive user base of Android (and, at one point, iPhone) owners. That’s why you don’t hear of, say MapQuest, much more. Or here. Or Bing Maps, however – to be fair – it’s also because Bing sucks.
And of course, some automakers might deeply appreciate the richness of Google’s connected services. But you can bet they’d all rather use an alternative they have more control over – especially if it means harvesting more of that sweet location data indoors – even if the user experience has suffered.
That’s not to say that Google isn’t right to say, according to the Reuters article, “that mixing a Google map with information on another map could lead to errors.” Google builds its software to work with the rest of its software – not Amazon’s, not Apple’s. If this case continues, it will be another prolonged and public demonstration of the few legislators who understand the technology. Not all of this software is plug-and-play, although it should be.
That’s where we are now, and it will be interesting to see if Google ends up being forced to modify Android Automotive accordingly. Cars are connected devices today, whether we like it or not. Any development in the world of technology is going to send ripples through everyone else, including ours.