A Jury Will Decide If Google’s App Store Is an Unjust Monopoly

It is countersuing Epic for not using the billing system required for Google Play. Epic contends the contract obligating that was unlawful, making it unenforceable.

Google has added new features that help consumers sidestep the Play store, but the experience remains subpar, according to the lawsuit and F-Droid’s Steiner. Two years ago, Google enabled automatic updates to apps downloaded from outside Play, but Steiner says the mechanism is still buggy. “Strategically, it’s in their interest for it to exist but not work well,” he says.

Google has also added new restrictions on apps downloaded from outside of Play. For example, mechanisms that limit what apps can do, such as barring a device from automatically joining certain Wi-Fi networks, were moved from inside Play to be a general feature of the Android operating system, allowing them to control non-Play apps too, Steiner says. Recently, when Google’s malware scanner automatically uninstalled a texting app distributed by F-Droid, Steiner and users received scant details about the supposed issue. He says users should have the choice to decide who protects users best, noting that F-Droid conducts manual and automated review of every app’s code. “Let us compete on trustworthiness,” Steiner says.

Jurors will ultimately hear up to 90 hours of testimony, including from Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, before ruling on whether Google broke federal and California antitrust laws. Judge Donato is expected to separately decide on allegations under California’s unfair competition law.

In choosing to let a jury largely decide its fate, Google may be betting on customer affinity for its brand, says Herbert Hovenkamp, a University of Pennsylvania antitrust scholar who has supported Epic’s case against Apple. “If there are soft questions about intent, you are more likely to want to go to a jury,” he says. Google did not respond to a request for comment on its choice.

Epic Dispute

The tech giant has made concessions in response to US lawsuits similar to Epic’s. Last year, Google agreed to settle for a total of $90 million to as many as 48,000 app developers without any new easing of rules. In September, it agreed to unspecified payment and policy changes to settle with a group of consumers as well as attorneys general for all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Further details are expected later this month.

Match Group, whose portfolio of dating apps includes Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid, Hinge, and Plenty of Fish, settled its own suit against Google’s app policies yesterday. Google agreed to forgo commissions it alleged were owed from sales made inside Android apps, and Match will join a Play store trial program called user-choice billing that allows alternative billing systems while still funneling commissions to Google. But an unspecified “value exchange” between the companies will offset the increased costs Match faces over the next three years from having to offer Google’s billing tool, it told shareholders.

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