Google alters Android licensing rules in the EU after antitrust fine

18 Oct 2018

Android mascots. Image: Google

Google is making some changes to its licensing model for Android OS in Europe.

Google is altering its licensing model for Android manufacturers. The firm says new licensing agreements will come into effect on 29 October and apply to devices shipped to the European Economic Area (EEA).

The changes were made in the wake of the €4.34bn fine Google was handed by the European Commission (EC), which accused the company of using Android’s dominant position to illegally take the lion’s share of the search market. Google is still appealing the decision but for now it is complying with the ruling.

Unbundling key Google apps

Until this point, Google had insisted that device makers would have to pre-install its apps in bundles. For example, if a manufacturer wanted to pre-install YouTube and Google Maps, it would also need to include Google Chrome and Search. The latter two apps will no longer be bundled in this manner by default. While the app bundling option is still available, other Android original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) now have the option to skip Chrome and Search, or install them separately.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager previously suggested that Google restrictions prevented “forked” versions of Android, such as Amazon’s Fire OS, from gaining traction.

More experimentation on the horizon

Manufacturers until now had focused on making user interface changes to Google’s Android template but not deeper code alterations. More experimentation by device makers may now be on the cards. We may see Samsung phones packaged with other search engines pre-installed, such as Bing and its own proprietary Samsung browser.

Users could still install Chrome or Google search if they wanted from the Play Store. In a blogpost, Google said: “Android partners wishing to distribute Google apps may also build non-compatible, or forked, smartphones and tablets for the European Economic Area (EEA).”

A fee for OEMs

Google will also be introducing a fee for licensing some of its own brand apps to comply with. “Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA. Android will remain free and open source.”

The previous agreement required OEMs to load devices with the Google app bundle in order to access the Play Store. Now, it will introduce fees for manufacturers that want to preload a subset of Google’s apps.

According to TechCrunch, the apps that will be subject to the licensing fee are: Google Play Store, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, Duo, Play Movies, Play Music, Drive and Photos. The specifics of the fees are still unclear.

“It is Google’s responsibility to comply with its obligations under the decision,” an EC spokesperson said. “The commission will closely monitor Google’s compliance to ensure that the remedy is effective and respects the decision.

“It is for Google to decide exactly how to comply with the commission’s decision. The decision does not require Google to charge for any of its apps or for the Play Store.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects