Android may be an open operating system, but Google’s Android – the version found on most Android devices – doesn’t offer as much freedom. Google’s Play Store is the largest app store on Android, but to put it on a phone, a manufacturer must abide by Google’s terms.
The search engine giant has often used the Play Store as leverage to stop manufacturers from changing the default search engine on an Android device or bundling competing apps.
In August last year, Russian authorities slapped a 438 million ruble ($6.75m) fine on Google, concluding that the company was “forcing its partners to feature its services”. The anti-trust case was originally filed by Yandex, who claimed that Google violated Russia’s competition rules.
Google will still have to pay that fine, but in an out-of-court settlement with the Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation, it has agreed to loosen its hold on Android.
The terms of the agreement state that Google will no longer demand exclusivity for its applications on Android devices in Russia, and will not restrict manufacturers from pre-installing competing search engines or applications. Google will also drop its requirement of being the only search engine that comes pre-installed on Android devices, and will no longer enforce any existing agreements where manufacturers had agreed to do so.
According to FAS, Google will also have to develop a “Chrome widget” that will replace the standard Google search widget on the Android home screen. This widget will prompt users with a “choice screen,” where they can select between Yandex, Google, or any other search engine who may sign a commercial agreement with Google for inclusion on this list.
The term for this agreement is six years and nine months; Yandex CEO Arkady Volozh wrote a blog post thanking Russia’s FAS and Google:
I am thankful to the Federal Antimonopoly Service for applying the law in a manner that effectively and efficiently restores competition to the market for the benefit of Russian users.
I also want to thank Google, not only for their cooperation, but also for recognizing the value of openness. We have always thought Google plays a constructive role in the Russian market. Competition breeds innovation. It’s our desire to participate in a market where users can choose the best services available.
In a statement, a Google spokesperson confirmed the settlement:
We are happy to have reached a commercial agreement with Yandex and a settlement with Russia’s competition regulator, the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), resolving the competition case over the distribution of Google apps on Android.
The deal also has wider implications beyond Russia, setting a precedent for cases around the world where governments and companies have complained that Google is abusing its dominant position. Google is battling against similar anti-trust cases in the EU, where BT recently took the search giant’s side.