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Google aims to put kibosh on Android antitrust lawsuit

The search giant wants a dismissal of a suit that claims the company violates antitrust laws by requiring smartphone vendors to make its own apps the default on Android devices.

CNET

Turn on an Android phone or tablet, and you'll find that Chrome, Gmail and other Google apps are typically set up as the default programs. Is that a violation of antitrust laws? Two people who have filed a lawsuit say yes; Google, of course, says no.

A hearing over a lawsuit filed by two smartphone users against Google is being held Thursday in a San Jose, Calif., federal court, Reuters has reported. The plaintiffs claim the company forces Android device makers to limit rival apps by making Google's own apps the default.

Google claims that 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 however offer a way to choose which app you wish to use to open a particular file or perform a specific task. For example, try to open a website, and Android displays a window called "Complete action using." The window displays all the different Web browsers installed on the device, such as Chrome and Firefox. You then tap the name of the browser you wish to use. You can also decide whether to use that browser just this once or always. The "always" option would then make that browser the default. Whether that process is simple and convenient enough for the average user is a point of contention in the lawsuit.

But the suit, which seeks class action status, isn't the first time this issue has reared its head.

Certain Google competitors, such as Microsoft, have filed their own complaints with the European Commission, claiming that Google apps "are widely used on Android by requiring default placement and other mechanisms for disadvantaging competing apps," Reuters noted. In June, a third-party app store filed an antitrust complaint against Google, saying that the company pushes aside alternative app stores in favor of its own Google Play app.

Another 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.

Should the suit by Feitelson and McKee move forward, Google may find itself in the position of having to divulge emails and contracts with Android vendors, Reuters added. U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman may even require Google executives to testify in the case.

Google did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.