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Android lawsuit against Google too vague, says judge

A US district judge says she will likely dismiss the suit -- but she's giving the plaintiffs a chance to provide more facts to support their claim that Google stifles competition on Android devices.

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An attempted class action lawsuit charging Google with antitrust violations may be on shaky ground unless the plaintiffs can provide more details.

On Thursday, a hearing over a lawsuit filed by two smartphone users against Google took place in a San Jose, Calif., federal court. The purpose of the hearing was to determine if the suit should move forward using a class action status. Such a class action suit would open the door for an entire group of people to sue Google collectively. But based on the information so far, the suit seems to be stuck in neutral.

The lawsuit claims that Google stifles competition on devices using its Android mobile operating system by requiring manufacturers to make Google apps the default programs. The plaintiffs further claim that Google's deals with Android device makers increase the price of smartphones since competing companies such as Microsoft are not allowed to bid for better exposure on the home screens, Reuters reported on Thursday.

US District Judge Beth Labson Freeman apparently didn't quite buy that argument, stating that the lawsuit as it currently stands seems too vague to move ahead.

"The speculative nature of the damages is really quite concerning to me," Freeman said, according to Reuters.

Judge Freeman said she would probably dismiss the lawsuit but is giving the plaintiffs time to come up with more concrete facts that could allow the suit to proceed.

Google claims the lawsuit should be dismissed because people are still free to use competing apps. But the plaintiffs, Gary Feitelson and Daniel McKee, argue that most people either don't know how to change the default settings or simply won't bother. Android does allow you to choose which app you wish to use to perform a specific action, either on a one-time basis or permanently. But the question is whether that process is simple and clear enough to the average user.

If the lawsuit moves forward, Google would potentially be forced to reveal emails and contracts with Android vendors. But Freeman cited US law that requires the plaintiffs to present enough facts "before I open the floodgates" to such expensive discovery.

The issue of requiring its own apps to be the default or at least prominently displayed on Android devices has dogged Google before. A lawsuit filed in May in US District Court in San Jose accused Google of establishing secret agreements with Android device makers to ensure that its own apps are loaded on their devices. Plaintiffs accused the search giant of antitrust violations, saying the agreements, known as Mobile Application Distribution Agreements (MADAs), required vendors to set Google's search as the default app.

In response to the lawsuit, a Google spokesperson sent CNET the following statement:

Anyone can use Android without Google and anyone can use Google without Android. Since Android's introduction, greater competition in smartphones has given consumers more choices at lower prices. Regulators in the US and abroad have already examined our Android agreements and found no cause for legal concern.