Category Archives: google

Google Delays Play Billing Requirement for Android In-App Purchases

Last September, Google announced that in one year’s time, all apps distributed through the Play Store would have to use Play Billing for in-app purchases, 9to5Google reported. The original target date would have been September 30, 2021, as a deadline for when all apps in the Play Store, including Google’s own, would have to use the Play Billing IAP system.

As you may recall, the Attorneys General of 36 states and Washington D.C. sued Google in an antitrust case that challenged Google’s control over its Android app store. According to Politico, the suit is the latest challenge to Google’s plan to force all app developers who use its Google Play Store to pay a 30 percent commission on sales of digital goods or services.

On July 16, 2021, Google posted information titled: “Allowing developers to apply for more time to comply with Play Payments Policy” on the Android Developers Blog. It included the following:

“…Many of our partners have been making steady progress toward the September 30 deadline. However, we continue to hear from developers all over the world that the past year has been particularly difficult, especially for those with engineering teams in regions that continue to be hard hit by the effects of the global pandemic, making it tougher than usual for them to make the technical updates related to this policy.

After carefully considering feedback from both large and small developers, we are giving developers an option to request a 6-month extension, which will give them until March 31, 2021 to comply with our Payments policy. Starting on July 22nd, developers can appeal for an extension through the Help Center and we will review each request and get back to requests as soon as possible…”

I cannot help but wonder if Google would have provided developers with a 6-month extension to comply with Google’s Payments policy if it were not facing an antitrust lawsuit. The way Google worded their offer of an extension feels misguided. Giving developers more time to comply with Google’s Play Payments Policy is not the same as giving them a choice whether or not to opt-in.

36 State Attorneys General Sued Google for Antitrust Violations

A group of 36 states and Washington, D.C., sued Google on Wednesday in an antitrust case challenging Google’s control over its Android app store, Politico reported. The suit was filed in California federal court and led by Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee, New York, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska.

According to Politico, the suit is the latest challenge to the search giant’s plan to force all app developers who use its Google Play Store to play a 30 percent commission on sales of digital goods or services. The change is set to go into effect in September.

The bipartisan group of state attorneys general filed Wednesday’s case in the same court as other app store lawsuits. The case will be heard by Judge James Donato, an Obama appointee, who has scheduled a trial in Epic’s suit against Google for April 2022.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the lawsuit alleges that Google has monopolized the distribution of apps and mobile devices that run the Google-owned Android operating system, blocking competition through contracts, technical barriers, and other means.

Google responded to this lawsuit on The Keyword in a post titled: “A lawsuit that ignores choice on Android and Google Play”. It was written by Senior Director of Public Policy Wilson White.

Perhaps the most relevant paragraph from Google’s blog post is this one:

“We understand that scrutiny is appropriate, and we’re committed to engaging with regulators. But Android and Google Play provide openness and choice that other platforms simply don’t. This lawsuit isn’t about helping the little guy or protecting consumers. It’s about boosting a handful of major app developers who want the benefits of Google Play without paying for it. Doing so risks raising costs for small developers, impeding their ability to innovate and compete, and making apps across the Android ecosystem less secure for consumers.”

To me, it appears that Google is irritated that “a handful of major app developers” want to have their apps be on Google Play “without paying for it.” Something feels a little off here. Either the group of major app developers is a large group – or they are so few that they are a “handful”. I’m beginning to think this is about money.

Ohio Attorney General Wants Google Declared a Public Utility

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit asking a court to declare Google a public utility, “reining in the ways the powerful search engine provides search results to Ohioans.”

According to the news release, Ohio is the first state in the country to bring such a lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed in Delaware County Common Pleas Court. It asserts two causes of action against Google:

It seeks a legal declaration that Google is a common carrier (or public utility) subject to proper government regulation.

It says Google has a duty to offer sources or competitors rights equal to its own, meaning it should not prioritize the placement of its own products, services, and websites on search results pages. Those equal rights should extend to advertisements, enhancements, knowledge boxes, integrated specialized searches, direct answers and other features.

The Columbus Dispatch posted a statement from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost:

“Google uses its dominance of internet search to steer Ohioan’s to Google’s own products – that’s discriminatory and anti-competitive,” Yost said in a statement. “When you own the railroad or the electric company or the cellphone tower, you have to treat everyone the same and give everybody access.”

The lawsuit, which The Columbus Dispatch embedded into their article, does not seek monetary damages.

Google also provided a statement to The Columbus Dispatch. “Ohioans simply don’t want the government to run Google like a gas or electric company,” the company said in a statement. “This lawsuit has no basis in fact or law and we’ll defend ourselves against it in court.”

Personally, I find this lawsuit interesting because of its unique interpretation of Google as a public utility – beholden to all the rules and regulations that other public utilities are. I’ve no idea how this court case will end up. However, if Ohio Attorney Dave Yost wins, it could set a very interesting precedent for other states to file similar lawsuits.

Google’s Android 12 Includes Some Privacy Features

Google announced the release of the first beta of Android 12. It includes options for people to personalize their phone with a custom color palette and redesigned widgets. It also includes some privacy features, but not the one that I suspect Android users really want – Apple’s App Tracking Transparency.

Starting with Android 12 on Pixel devices, you’ll be able to completely personalize your phone with a custom color palette and redesigned widgets. Using what we call color extraction, you choose your wallpaper, and the system automatically determines which colors are dominant, which ones are complementary and which ones look great. It then applies those colors across the entire OS: the notification shade, the lock screen, the volume controls, new widgets, and much more.

There are also some new animations. For example, when you dismiss your notifications on the lock screen, your clock will appear larger so you know when you’re all caught up. Google also stated that Android devices are now faster and more responsive with better power efficiency so you can use your device for longer without a charge.

What about privacy settings? Macworld reported that you won’t find anything like Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature. “To be fair, Google does include an option to turn off ad tracking. In Settings, there is a toggle to opt out of ads personalization, which tells apps not to use your advertiser ID to create interest-based ads.” This, Macworld reported, is similar to Apple’s “Prevent cross-site tracking” toggle “and is a good thing to turn off.”

MacWorld also points out: “To get a similar level of granularity you need to go to the Google tab in Settings, then Manage Your Google Account, Data & personalization, and finally Ad settings. Inside, you’ll find a dizzying array of options and preferences for Google and its partners as well as an ability to turn off access for individual apps and categories. MacWorld notes that Android users may not know those features exist, or that Google routinely changes the access.

In my opinion, if the most important thing about a smartphone is the ability to customize the interface – then maybe you will feel comfortable with Android 12. However, if you consider the ability to prevent companies and advertisers from tracking you through apps and across the internet – I would recommend you get an iPhone.

Google Wants Users to Enable Two-Step Verification

Google is encouraging users to enroll in two-step verification (2SV) in order to ensure that the person who attempts to sign in on your account is really you. A post on The Keyword states that the best way to protect your account from a breached or bad password is by having a second form of verification in place.

The 2SV option isn’t new for Google. I opted-in to it a while ago because I believe that 2SV is a good way to protect my gmail from people who aren’t me. I say this as a Mac users who got a gmail account back when it was new and shiny. Those of you who connected your gmail account to a variety of websites might want to consider 2SV protection. That, or see if you can remove your gmail from those websites.

Google announced that users will soon lose the ability to choose for themselves whether or not they want to enroll in Google’s 2SV.

Today, we ask people who have enrolled in two-step verification (2SV) to confirm it’s really them with a simple tap via a Google prompt on their phone whenever they sign in. Soon, we’ll start automatically enrolling users in 2SV if their accounts are appropriately configured… Using their mobile device to sign in gives people safer and more secure authentication experience than passwords alone.

I don’t think Google should require their users to enroll in 2SV if they don’t want to. Having that automatically happen could make some people angry, especially if Google doesn’t give people a way to opt-out.

Google also mentioned their Password Import feature. According to Google, it “allows people to easily upload up to 1,000 passwords at a time from various third party sites into our Password Manager (for free).” Personally, I’m not comfortable handing over all of my passwords to Google. I suspect that other people won’t want to do that, either. To me, it feels like collecting passwords is just one more way for a big company to gather data on people

Google Used “Double Irish” Tax Structure to Shift Profits Out of Ireland

One of Google’s headquarters is based in Dublin, Ireland. According to The Irish Times, Google shifted more than $75.4 billion in profits out of Ireland using the controversial “double Irish” tax arrangement in 2019.

Financial Times provided information about the “double-Irish” in 2014. In short, it is a simple structure used by US technology and pharmaceutical companies to route profits to tax havens like Bermuda where they hold intellectual property.

The double Irish exploits the different definitions of corporate residency in Ireland and the US. Dublin taxes companies of they are controlled and managed in Ireland, while the US’ definition if tax residency is based on where a corporation is registered. Companies exploiting the double Irish put their intellectual property into an Irish-registered company that is controlled from a tax haven such as Bermuda.

The Financial Times continued: Ireland considers the company to be a tax-resident in Bermuda, while the US considers it to be a tax-resident in Ireland. The result is that when royalty payments are sent to the company, they go untaxed – unless or until the money is eventually sent home to the US parent company.

The Irish Times reported that the “double Irish” was abolished in 2015 for new companies establishing operations in Ireland. However, it allowed companies already using it until the end of 2020 to phase it out.

To me, it sounds like Google took advantage of its ability to continue using the “double Irish” structure to move profits out of Ireland and to also keep those profits safe from being taxed in the United States. It bothers me when huge corporations make efforts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

That said, it appears what Google was doing was considered legal until the end of 2020. It appears that Ireland abolished the “double Irish” tax arrangement. My hope this means that big corporations will actually have to pay their taxes, just like small businesses are required to.

Australian Court Finds Google “Partially” Misled Consumers

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has found that Google misled customers about personal location data collected through Android mobile devices between January 2017 and December 2018, in a world-first enforcement action brought by the ACCC.

The Guardian provided a good explanation of what happened. The Court found that Google continued to collect “Location History” and “Web & App Activity” on some Android and Pixel phones, even for customers who ticked “No” or “Do not collect” on their settings.

If a customer said no to “Location History”, but left “Web & App Activity” switched on, Google continued to collect location data, the ACCC said.

The ACCC also stated:

The Court ruled that when consumers created a new Google Account during the initial set-up process of their Android device, Google misrepresented that the ‘Location History’ setting was the only Google Account setting that affected whether Google collected, kept, or used personally identifiable data about their location. In fact, another Google Account setting titled ‘Web & App Activity’ also enabled Google to collect, store and use personally identifiable location data when it was turned on, and that setting was turned on by default.

In addition, the ACCC wrote: The Court found that when consumers later accessed the ‘Location History’ setting on their Android device during the same time period to turn that setting off, they were also misled because Google did not inform them that by leaving the ‘Web & App Activity’ setting switched on, Google would continue to collect, store and use their personally identifiable data.

According to The Guardian, a judgment published by Justin Thomas Thawley said that Google’s behavior was “partially misleading” He felt that some consumers would have been misled, and reasonably believed that this data would not be collected, and others would not have.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, pecuniary penalties, publications orders, and compliance orders. These will be determined at a later date. In addition to penalties, the ACCC is seeking an order for Google to publish a notice to Australian consumers to better explain Google’s location data settings in the future.

Personally, I think its very sneaky of Google to try and trick people into giving Google their location data. Anybody else remember when Google’s motto was “Don’t be evil”?