As US regulators gear as much as launch one other antitrust probe of Google’s enterprise, another Android app retailer is dialling up its very long time criticism of anti-competitive habits towards the search and smartphone OS big.
Portugal-based Aptoide is launching a marketing campaign web site to press its case and name for Google to “Play Fair” — accusing Mountain View of compacting client alternative by “preventing users from freely choosing their preferred app store”.
Aptoide filed its first EU antitrust criticism towards Google all the way in which again in 2014, becoming a member of a bunch of different complainants crying foul over how Google was working Android.
And whereas the European Commission did ultimately step in, slapping Google with a $5BN penalty for antitrust abuses final summer time after a multi-year investigation, rivals proceed to complain the Android maker nonetheless isn’t taking part in truthful.
In the case of Aptoide, the choice Android app retailer says Google has broken its capability to compete by unjustifiably flagging its app as insecure.
“Since Summer 2018, Google Play Protect flags Aptoide as a harmful app, hiding it in users’ Android devices and requesting them to uninstall it. This results in a potential decrease of unique Aptoide users of 20%. Google Play Protect is Google’s built-in malware protection for Android, but we believe the way it works damages users’ rights,” it writes on the positioning, the place it highlights what it claims are Google’s anti-competitive behaviors, and asks customers to report experiences of the app being flagged.
Aptoide says Google has engaged in a number of behaviors that make it more durable for it to achieve or maintain customers — thereby undermining its capability to compete with Google’s personal Play Store.
“In 2018, we had 222 million yearly active users. Last month (May’19), we had 56 million unique MAU,” co-founder and CEO Paulo Trezentos tells TechSwitch. “We estimate that the Google Play removal and flagging had cause the loss of 15% to 20% of our user base since June’18.”
(The estimate of what number of customers Aptoide has misplaced was carried out utilizing Google SafetyNet API which he says permits it to question the classification of an app.)
“Fortunately we have been able to compensate that with new users and new partnerships but it is a barrier to a faster growth,” he provides.
“The googleplayfair.com site hopes to bring visibility to this situation and help other start ups that may be under the same circumstances.”
Among the anti-competitive behaviors Aptoide accuses Google of participating in are flagging and suspending its app from customers’ telephones — with out their permission and “without a valid reason”.
“It hides Aptoide. User cannot see Aptoide icon and cannot launch. Even if they go to ‘settings’ and say they trust Aptoide, Aptoide installations are blocked,” he says. “If it looks violent, it’s because it’s a really aggressive move and impactful.”
Here’s the notification Aptoide customers are proven when making an attempt to override Google’s suspension of Aptoide on the package deal supervisor degree:
Even if an Aptoide consumer overrides the warning — by clicking ‘keep app (unsafe)’ — Trezentos says the app nonetheless gained’t work as a result of Google blocks Aptoide from putting in apps.
“The user has to go to Play Protect settings (discover it it’s not easy) and turn off Play protect for all apps.”
He argues there isn’t a justification for Aptoide’s different app retailer being handled on this means.
“Aptoide is considered safe both by security researchers [citing a paper by Japanese security researchers] and by Virus Total (a company owned by Google),” says Trezentos, including: “Google is removing Aptoide from users phone only due to anticompetitive practices. Doesn’t want anyone else as distribution channel in Android.”
On the web site Aptoide has launched to boost consciousness and inform customers and different startups about how Google treats its app, it makes the declare that its retailer is “proven… 100% secure” — writing:
We wish to be handled in a good means: Play Protect shouldn’t flag Aptoide as a dangerous app and shouldn’t ask customers to uninstall it because it’s confirmed that it’s 100% safe. Restricting choices for customers goes towards the character of the Android open supply undertaking [ref10]. Moreover, Google’s ongoing abusive behaviour resulting from it’s dominant place ends in the shortage of freedom of alternative for customers and builders.We wish to maintain permitting customers and builders to find and distribute apps within the retailer of their alternative. A wholesome aggressive market and a wide range of choices are what all of us must maintain offering the most effective merchandise.
Trezentos stands by the “100% secure” declare after we question it.
“We think that we have a safer approach. We call it ‘security by design’: We don’t consider all apps secure in the same way. Each app has a badge depending on the reputation of the developer: Trusted, Unknown, Warning, Critical,” he says.
“We are almost 100% sure that apps with a trusted badge are safe. But new apps from new developers, [carry] more risk in spite of all the technology we have developed to detect it. They keep the badge ‘unknown‘ until the community vote it as trusted. This can take some weeks, it can take some months.”
“Of course, if our anti-malware systems detect problems, we classify it as ‘critical’ and the users don’t see it at all,” he provides.
Almost 100% safe then. But if Google’s counter declare to justify choking off entry to Aptoide is that the app “can download potentially harmful apps” the identical can very properly be stated of its Play Store. And Google actually isn’t encouraging Android customers to pause that.
On the competitors entrance, Aptoide presents a transparent problem to Google’s Android revenues as a result of it provides builders a extra enticing income break up — taking simply 19%, fairly than the 30% reduce Google takes off of Play Store wares. (Aptoide couches the latter as “Google’s abusive conditions”.)
So if Android customers could be persuaded to change from Play to Aptoide, builders stand to achieve — and arguably customers too, as app prices could be decrease.
While, on the flip aspect, Google faces its 30% reduce being circumvented. Or else it may very well be compelled to scale back how a lot it takes from builders to offer them a higher incentive to inventory its cabinets with nice apps.
As with any app retailer enterprise, Aptoide’s retailer in fact requires scale to perform. And it’s precisely that scale which Google’s habits has negatively impacted because it started flagging the app as insecure a yr in the past, in June 2018, squeezing the rival’s user-base by as much as a fifth, as Aptoide tells it.
Trezentos says Google’s flagging of its app retailer impacts all markets and “continues to this day” — regardless of a authorized ruling in its favor final fall, when a court docket in Portugal ordered Google to cease eradicating Aptoide with out customers’ permission.
“Google is ignoring the injunction result and is disregarding the national court. No company, independently of the size, should be above court decisions. But it seems that is the case with Google,” he says.
“Our legal team believe that the decision applies to 82 countries but we are pursuing first the total compliance with the decision in Portugal. From there, we will seek the extension to other jurisdictions.”
“We tried to contact Google several times, via Google Play Protect feedback form and directly through LinkedIn, and we’ve not had any feedback from Google. No reasons were presented. No explanation, although we are talking about hiding Aptoide in millions of users’ phones,” he provides.
“Our point in court it’s simple: Google is using the control at operating system level to block competitors at the services level (app store, in this case). As Google has a dominant position, that’s not legal. Court [in Portugal] confirmed and order Google to stop. Google didn’t obey.”
Aptoide has not filed an antitrust criticism towards Google within the US — focusing its authorized efforts on that entrance on native submissions to the European Commission.
But Trezentos says it’s “willing to cooperate with US authorities and provide factual data that shows that Google has acted with anti-competitive behaviour” (though he says nobody has come knocking to request such collaboration but.)
In Europe, the Commission’s 2018 antitrust resolution was targeted on Android licensing phrases — which led to Google tweaking the phrases it provides Android OEMs promoting in Europe final fall.
Despite some modifications rivals proceed to complain that its modifications don’t go far sufficient to create a degree taking part in discipline for competitors.
There has additionally not been any aid for Aptoide from the report breaking antitrust enforcement. On the opposite Google seems to have dug in towards this aggressive risk.
“The remedies are positive but the scope is very limited to OEM partnerships,” says Trezentos of the EC’s 2018 Android antitrust resolution. “We proposed additionally that Google would be obliged to give the same access privileges over the operating system to credible competitors.”
We’ve reached out to the Commission for touch upon Aptoide’s criticism.
While it’s at the very least technically doable for an OEM to supply an Android system in Europe which incorporates key Google providers (like search and maps) however preloads another app retailer, fairly than Google Play, it might be a courageous system maker certainly to go towards the patron grain and never give smartphone consumers the mainstream retailer they count on.
So, as but, there’s little excessive degree regulatory aid to assist Aptoide. And it could take the next court docket than a Portuguese nationwide court docket to pressure Google to pay attention.
But with US authorities quick dialling up their scrutiny of Mountain View, Aptoide might discover a new viewers for its criticism.
“The increased awareness to Google practices is reaching the regulators,” Trezentos agrees, including: “Those practices harm competition and in the end are bad for developers and mobile users.”
We reached out to Google with questions on its remedy of Aptoide’s rival app retailer — however on the time of writing the corporate had not responded with any remark.
There have additionally been some latest rumors that Aptoide is in talks to provide its different app retailer for Huawei units — in mild of the US/China commerce uncertainties, and the manager order barring US corporations from doing enterprise with the Chinese tech big, which have led to stories that Google intends to withdraw key Android providers like Play from the corporate.
But Trezentos pours chilly water on these rumors, suggesting there was no change of cadence in its discussions with Huawei.
“We work with three of top six mobile OEMs in the world. Huawei is not one of them yet,” he tells us. “Our Shengzhen office had been in conversations for some months and they are testing our APIs. This process has not been accelerated or delayed by the recent news.”