Mobile

Samsung and Xiaomi had record smartphone shipments in India

Posted by | india, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones, Xiaomi | No Comments

India has quickly become ground zero for the smartphone wars. Last year, the country surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s No. 2 smartphone market, and manufacturers are falling over themselves to plant a flag.

Samsung and Xiaomi have been the two biggest winners in recent quarters, battling it out for the top spot. Earlier this year, the latter edged out the former, but the battle has remained neck and neck for the huge — and growing — market. According to new numbers from Canalys, both companies shipped 9.9 million smartphones for Q2 2018.

Xiaomi held onto the top spot — though just barely, with Samsung growing 47 percent year-over-year. That’s the Korean manufacturer’s biggest growth spurt in the country since late-2015. Look, here’s a graph.

Combined, the two manufacturers comprise 60 percent of shipments in India for the quarter. Vivo and Oppo round out the top four, making Samsung the only non-Chinese company vying for a top spot. The company announced recently that it will be doubling down its efforts in the country with a factory it’s deemed the world’s largest.

ASUS has seem some growth in the country, as well, tripling since the previous quarter. Apple’s shipments, meanwhile, have dipped around 50 percent year-over-year, according to the firm, as the company adjusts its strategy in the country.

“Apple’s paring back of distributor partners and move to a ‘brand-first, volume-next’ strategy will reap rewards as it will ensure better margin per device,” says Rushabh Doshi of Canalys. “Getting priorities right will be important to smartphone vendors, and it will be a choice between profitability and volume growth.”

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Trump just noticed Europe’s $5BN antitrust fine for Google

Posted by | Android, antitrust, eCommerce, Europe, Google, Government, Margrethe Vestager, Mobile, tax, trump, Twitter | No Comments

In other news bears shit in the woods. In today’s second-day President Trump news: ‘The Donald’ has seized, belatedly, on the European Commission’s announcement yesterday that Google is guilty of three types of illegal antitrust behavior — with its Android OS, since 2011 — and that it is fining the company $5 billion; a record-breaking penalty which the Commission’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said reflects the length and gravity of the company’s competition infringements.

Trump is not! at all! convinced! though!

“I told you so!” he has tweeted triumphantly just now. “The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google . They truly have taken advantage of the U.S., but not for long!”

I told you so! The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google. They truly have taken advantage of the U.S., but not for long!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2018

Also not so very long ago, Trump was the one grumbling about U.S. tech giants. Though Amazon is his most frequent target in tech, while Google has been spared the usual tweet lashings. Albeit, on the average day he may not necessarily be able to tell one tech giant from another.

Vestager can though, and she cited Amazon as one of the companies that had suffered as a direct result of contractual conditions Google imposed on device makers using its Android OS — squeezing the ecommerce giant’s potential to build a competing Android ecosystem, with its Fire OS.

Presumably, for Trump, Amazon is not ‘one of our great companies’ though.

At least it’s only Google that gets his full Twitter attention — and a special Trumpian MAGA badge of honor call-out as “one of our great companies” — in the tweet.

Presumably, he hasn’t had this pointed out to him yet though. So, uh, awkward.

Safe to say, Trump is seizing on Google’s antitrust penalty as a stick to beat the EU, set against a backdrop of Trump already having slapped a series of tariffs on EU goods, and Trump recently threatening the EU with tariffs on cars — in what is fast looking like a full blown trade war.

Even so, Trump’s tweet probably wasn’t the kind of support Google was hoping to solicit via its own Twitter missive yesterday…

.@Android has created more choice for everyone, not less. #AndroidWorks pic.twitter.com/FAWpvnpj2G

— Google Europe (@googleeurope) July 18, 2018

#AndroidWorksButTradeWarsDon’t doesn’t make for the most elegant hashtag.

But here’s the thing: Vestager has already responded to Trump’s attack on the Android decision — even though it’s taking place a day late. Because the EU’s “tax lady”, as Trump has been known to vaguely refer to her, is both lit and onit.

During yesterday’s press conference she was specifically asked to anticipate Trump’s tantrum response on hearing the EU antitrust decision against Google, and whether she wasn’t afraid it might affect next week’s meeting between the US president and the European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

“As I know my US colleagues want fair competition just as well as we do,” she responded. “There is a respect that we do our job. We have this very simple mission to make sure that companies play by the rulebook for the market to serve consumers. And this is also my impression that this is what they want in the US.”

Pressed again on political context, given the worsening trade relationship between the US and the EU, Vestager was asked how she would explain that her finding against Google is not part of an overarching anti-US narrative — and how would she answer Trump’s contention that the EU’s “tax lady… really hates the US”.

“Well I’ve done my own fact checking on the first part of that sentence. I do work with tax and I am a woman. So this is 100% correct,” she replied. “It is not correct for the latter part of the sentence though. Because I very much like the US. And I think that would also be what you think because I am from Denmark and that tends to be what we do. We like the U.S. The culture, the people, our friends, traveling. But the fact is that this [finding against Google] has nothing to do with how I feel. Nothing whatsoever. Just as well as enforcing competition law — well, we do it in the world but we don’t do it in a political context. Because then there would never, ever be a right timing.

“The mission is very simple. We have to protect consumers and competition to make sure that consumers get the best of fair competition — choice, innovation, best possible prices. This is what we do. It has been done before, we will continue to do it — no matter the political context.”

Maybe Trump will be able to learn the name of the EU’s “tax lady” if Vestager ends up EU president next year.

Or, well, maybe not. We can only hope so.

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Europe updates its predatory pricing investigation against Qualcomm over UMTS baseband chips

Posted by | 3g, Europe, european commission, Mobile, Qualcomm, UMTS | No Comments

On the heels of Google getting served a $5 billion fine by the EU over monopolistic practices related to its Android operating system, the European Commission today resurfaced another ongoing case in the world of large U.S. tech companies. The EC said that it has added to its investigation into Qualcomm and its predatory pricing of UMTS baseband chips. Specifically, today the Commission has sent more details relating to elements of the “price cost” test that it had applied to measure just how much below cost Qualcomm was selling UMTS baseband chips to edge out competitors.

If the case is decided against Qualcomm, the company could face an additional fine of up to 10 percent of its worldwide revenues. In 2009, these were $10.4 billion, while in 2017, global turnover was over $22 billion.

The original, 2015 case was based on a complaint filed by Icera — once a big player in baseband chips — and dates back to practices between 2009 and 2011 and alleged that Qualcomm used its market position to negotiate artificially low prices for UMTS chips — used in 3G phones — in order to oust out Icera. Others that made similar chips include Nvidia.

Qualcomm has wasted little time in responding to the notice posted by the EC.

“This investigation, now in its ninth year, alleges harm in 2009-2011, to a competitor who chose years later to exit the market for reasons unrelated to Qualcomm,” said Don Rosenberg, general counsel and executive vice president of Qualcomm in a statement. “While the investigation has been narrowed, we are disappointed to see it continues and will immediately begin preparing our response to this supplementary statement of objections. We belief that once the Commission has reviewed our response it will find that Qualcomm’s practices are pro-competitive and fully consistent with European competition rules.”

Qualcomm is already in the middle of appealing a $1.23 billion fine in the EU over LTE chip dominance in the iPhone, related to deals that were made with Apple at the expense of another big rival of Qualcomm’s, Intel. (Never mind that Apple and Qualcomm are also in the middle of a patent dispute.)

This older case, as Qualcomm points out, has been narrowed since it was first announced almost exactly three years ago. And while we don’t know what the exact details of the supplementary objections are and whether they have expanded them again (we have contacted the EC to try to find out), the Commission also notes in its short statement — printed in full below — that sending an update to its calculations doesn’t necessarily imply the outcome of this case.

Statement below.

The European Commission has sent a Supplementary Statement of Objections to Qualcomm Inc. This is a procedural step in the Commission’s ongoing investigation under EU antitrust rules looking into whether Qualcomm engaged in ‘predatory pricing’. The Commission sent a Statement of Objections to Qualcomm in December 2015 detailing its concerns. In particular, the Commission’s preliminary view is that between 2009 and 2011 Qualcomm sold certain UMTS baseband chipsets at prices below cost, with the intention of eliminating Icera, its main competitor in the leading edge segment of the market at that time. UMTS chipsets are key components of mobile devices. They enable both voice and data transmission in third generation (3G) cellular communication. The Supplementary Statement of Objections sent today focuses on certain elements of the “price-cost” test applied by the Commission to assess the extent to which UMTS baseband chipsets were sold by Qualcomm at prices below cost. The sending of a Supplementary Statement of Objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number AT.39711.

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And now, here’s a ‘Trumpy Cat’ augmented reality app from George Takei

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, George Takei, House of Cats, Mobile, TC | No Comments

Anyone who follows George Takei on Twitter can tell you that Star Trek‘s original Sulu is not a fan of President Donald Trump. But he’s found a new way to express that criticism — not just in tweets, interviews and op-eds, but also in an augmented reality app called House of Cats.

The app was built in partnership with Montreal-based development company BMAD, and it allows users to interact with animated animal characters like Trumpy Cat, Meowlania, Vladdy Putin and Lil’ Rocket Pug. They can add their own voice recordings, superimpose the animals on real environments and take photos with them — Takei suggested including Trumpy Cat in photos of real-world protests.

When I asked where the idea came from, Takei had a simple explanation: “The Internet loves the combination of politics and cats.”

While the app looks pretty silly, Takei made the by-now-commonplace observation that satire is having a hard time keeping up with the daily news.

We spoke shortly after Trump had his press conference with Vladimir Putin — setting off this week’s cycle of criticism, denial and missing double negatives — and Takei told me, “No augmented reality could have created the true reality of what we saw this morning: Donald Trump standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Vladimir Putin … his denial of the attack on the core activity of our democratic system.”

Takei added that humor is a key ingredient in getting a serious message out into the world. He’s pointed to his embrace of memes (particularly Grumpy Cat) as one of the main drivers of his popularity on social media, which in turn gives him a bigger platform for his political views.

“I’m a political activist — I have been since I was a teenager, largely because of my childhood incarceration behind American barbed wire fences,” Takei said. He said his social media presence is meant to be an extension of that activism, but, “I notice that if I’m documenting the truth, people are nodding off. [So] I try to kind of inject a little humor into it.”

The app costs 99 cents, and there are plans for subscription content as well. It might seem strange to pay money for a satirical cat app, but keep in mind that some of the profits will go to Refugees International.

“Making a mockery of this particular person is going to be a very effective tool,” Takei said. “We’ll have fun while we also accomplish our mission to make this a better America.”

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The Galaxy Note 9 is leaking out all over the place

Posted by | galaxy note 9, hardware, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

The Galaxy Note 9 won’t be announced until August. You wouldn’t know it by reading the internet, however. Every nook and cranny of the upcoming phablet has been bared for the world, in a series of leaks over the past several weeks.

Sure, not all of them will pan out, but plenty have come from leakers with established track records, and enough of the details line up so as to paint a wholly believable portrait of the phone we’ll finally get an official look at early next month.

And then there’s this:

That’s a picture of Samsung CEO DJ Koh using what appears to be the Note 9 at a media event. The differences are subtle, but they’re there in the camera housing, which is among a few small visible changes to the upcoming device. Like, good on DJ Koh for using the company’s products, S Pen and all, but even by Samsung’s traditionally leaky standards, that’s a little silly.

Maybe Samsung doesn’t mind. Maybe it’s just happy to have everyone talking about the Note 9, while it’s hard at work on that folding phone we’ve heard so much about.

The above camera housing is in line with another recent post from perennial leaker, EVLeaks, which shows off a full front and back render of the upcoming handset:

S Pen? pic.twitter.com/xizmWw9J2W

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) July 17, 2018

There’s also an S Pen, with a yellow coat of paint that’s in line with the image the company sent out with the invite to the August event. The fingerprint sensor has been moved below the camera there, rather than next to it as it was on the Note 8. That was a clear mistake, and Samsung fixed it for the S9. Logic follows that they would do the same on the new Note.

That, in turn, appears to confirm this photo of an actual unit from Slashleaks, which bears an extremely effective “No photo allowed/Do not leak info” sticker. At least Samsung tried, I guess.

#Samsung#GalaxyNote9 – Samsung Galaxy Note 9 live images leaked https://t.co/WEgJIsWtEy pic.twitter.com/kMwHm7kpBc

— /LEAKS (@Slashleaks) July 17, 2018

More (but not that much more, from the looks of it) will be revealed on August 9.

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Apple releases third iOS 12 beta to everyone

Posted by | Apple, Apps, iOS, iOS 12, iOS beta, Mobile | No Comments

Apple just released the third version of the iOS 12 beta as part of the public beta program. It means that everyone can now install a development build of iOS 12, the next major version of the operating system for iPhone and iPad.

Don’t forget this is still a beta version. Things will crash, things won’t work. Don’t be surprised if you lose data in your Photos, Notes or Messages apps for instance.

But if you have an iPhone or iPad that you don’t use every day, you can get a glimpse of the future of iOS right now. While the final version of iOS 12 should be released near the end of September, Apple is going to release beta versions every few weeks over the summer.

Before installing the beta, don’t forget to back up your device to iCloud and/or your computer using iTunes. You can then head over to Apple’s beta website, sign up with your Apple ID and download the beta profile.

The profile is just a tiny file that tells your iPhone to check for public betas. After restarting your device, you can open the Settings app and install the iOS update just like any normal software update. If you already installed a previous beta, it’s time to update.

In September, your device should automatically update to the final version of iOS 12 and you’ll be able to delete the configuration profile.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in iOS 12. The main feature of iOS 12 is a performance improvement, especially for older devices. If you have an iPhone 6 or an iPad Air for instance, you should see a big improvement when it comes to launching apps, triggering the camera and entering text.

The other big theme of the year is new features to help you spend less time using your phone. There’s a new Screen Time feature to see and control how much time you spend using each app. Notifications are now grouped and you can silence them from the lock screen. You also can turn on Do Not Disturb when you’re in a meeting, for a few hours or for longer.

Apple didn’t stop there, and added new power features as well. Developers will be able to take advantage of a new file format for augmented reality and new features in ARKit 2.0. Apple is releasing the Workflow app as a new Siri Shortcuts app. Developers will be able to add information to Siri, as well, so that you can add a boarding pass or a music playlist to Siri.

The Photos, News and Stocks apps have been improved, as well as Apple Books (the app formerly known as iBooks). Apple is introducing Memoji on the iPhone X. It’s a customized avatar that you can use in iMessage and FaceTime to represent you.

If you want to learn more, read my iOS 12 preview to get my thoughts on this update.

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Samsung rumored to be releasing a folding screen smartphone in early-2019

Posted by | hardware, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Samsung’s working on phone with a folding screen. And it’s arriving soonish. You’d be entirely forgiven if you rolled your eyes at that one, or at the very least took the whole thing with a sufficiently massive grain of salt.

This particular rumor has been floating around for about as long as Samsung’s been in the smartphone game, but The Wall Street Journal appears to have it on good authority that such a device may finally come to fruition early next year.

What’s more, those “people familiar with the matter” say the seven-inch handset is currently sporting the codename “Winner,” which sounds a bit like something Donald Trump would nickname his smartphone.

The design sounds more like a classic clamshell handset than the novel — though not particularly practical — dual-screen ZTE Axon M that arrived late last year. To be fair, that was more two screens fused together, rather than a “folding screen.” When the Samsung device is closed, on the other hand, it apparently sports cameras on either side and “a small display bar on the front.”

The phone will reportedly be released in smaller quantities than most Samsung smartphones/tablets at first, with wider availability later in the year. A lower than expected demand for the company’s latest flagship, the Galaxy S9 is said to be a driving force behind Samsung’s push to get this product out the door.

The category has long been a white whale for a smartphone industry intent on cramming the largest screen into the smallest footprint possible. The ability to fold it up and shove it in a pocket would certainly be a way to accomplish this. There have, however, been all manner of technical constraints along the way. 

A representative for the company offered TechCrunch a fairly boilerplate statement in response to the rumors, “ “It is Samsung’s policy to not comment on rumors and speculation.”

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Google gets slapped with $5BN EU fine for Android antitrust abuse

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Android, antitrust, Apps, competition commission, eu, Europe, fairsearch, Google, Government, Margrethe Vestager, Mobile, TC | No Comments

Google has been fined a record breaking €4.34 billion (~$5BN) by European antitrust regulators for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system.

Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager has tweeted to confirm the penalty ahead of a press conference about to take place. Stay tuned for more details as we get them.

Fine of €4,34 bn to @Google for 3 types of illegal restrictions on the use of Android. In this way it has cemented the dominance of its search engine. Denying rivals a chance to innovate and compete on the merits. It’s illegal under EU antitrust rules. @Google now has to stop it

— Margrethe Vestager (@vestager) July 18, 2018

In a longer statement about the decision, Vestager said:

Today, mobile internet makes up more than half of global internet traffic. It has changed the lives of millions of Europeans. Our case is about three types of restrictions that Google has imposed on Android device manufacturers and network operators to ensure that traffic on Android devices goes to the Google search engine. In this way, Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine. These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.

In particular, the EC has decided that Google:

  • has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google’s app store (the Play Store);
  • made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and
  • has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called “Android forks”).

The decision also concludes that Google is dominant in the markets for general internet search services; licensable smart mobile operating systems; and app stores for the Android mobile operating system.

During the press conference Vestager said the Commission had determined that Google had breached its competition rules with Android since 2011. (Although its press release also notes that during 2013, after being called out by the Commission, Google gradually stopped making illegal payments to device manufacturers to exclusively pre-install Google Search. “The illegal practice effectively ceased as of 2014,” it adds.)

“The decision today concludes that the restrictions Google imposed on manufacturers and network operators using Android have breached [EU] rules since 2011,” said Vestager. “First that’s because Google’s practices have denied rival search engines the possibility to compete on their merits. They made sure that Google search engine is pre-installed on practically all Android devices, which is an advantage that cannot be matched.

“And by making payments to major manufacturers and network operators on condition that no other search app or search engine was pre-installed — well, then rivals were excluded from this opportunity.”

“Google’s practices also harmed competition and further innovation in the wider mobile space, beyond just Internet search — and that’s because they prevented other mobile browsers from competing effectively with the pre-installed Google Chrome browser.

“Finally they obstructed the development of Android forks. This could have provided a platform for rival search engines as well as other app developers to thrive.”

She raised the example of Amazon’s Android fork, Fire OS, as a rival Android platform that has suffered from Google’s contractual arrangements with device manufacturers.

“In 2012 and 2013 Amazon tried to license to device manufacturers its Android fork, called Fire OS. It wanted to co-operate with manufacturers to increase its chances of commercial success. And manufacturers were interested but due to Google’s restrictions, manufacturers could not launch Fire OS on even a single device,” she said.

“They would have lost the right to sell any Android phone with key Google apps. Nowadays, very few devices run with Fire OS. Namely only those manufactured by Amazon themselves. And this is not a proportionate outcome. Google is entitled to set technical requirements to ensure that functionality and apps within its own Android ecosystem runs smoothly. But these technical requirements cannot serve as a smokescreen to prevent the development of competing Android ecosystems.

“Google cannot have its cake and eat it.”

Vestager also made a point of characterizing Google’s actions as monopolistic towards data, saying that by blocking rival apps and services it “also denied rivals access to valuable data from increased user traffic which in turn could have allowed rivals to improve their products”.

What about breaking Google up?

During the press conference she was asked several times about whether breaking up Google might not be a more effective remedy than the cease & desist decision the Commission has reached today — which hands responsibility for Google to come up with a compliance remedy for its illegal behavior with Android (albeit, subject to ongoing monitoring by the Commission).

She replied that she wasn’t sure that breaking up Google would make for an effective competition remedy, arguing there are “no silver bullets” to ensuring competitive markets.

“Here we have a decision that is very clear, which will allow mobile device producers to have a choice — that will us, as consumers, to have a choice as well. That’s what competition is about. And I think that is much more important than a discussion of whether or not breaking up a company would do that,” she said, when asked whether she would exclude the possibility of breaking up Google — so she was sidestepping a direct answer to that.

“I think what will serve competition is for more players to have a real go, to be able to reach consumers so that we can use our choice to find what suits us the best,” she added. “Test out new search engines, new browsers, have maybe a phone that works in a slightly different way [via an Android fork]… maybe the totality of the phone, in the way it was presented, that would work to allow others to compete on the merits, to show consumers what can we do, what have we invented, this is where we put our efforts, this is the that innovation we want to present for you. This I think would enable competition.”

She also emphasized the importance of passing proposed EU legislation related to transparency and fairness for businesses that are reliant on online platforms.

“I think there is a very important discussion which is to discuss how to pass the legislation that my colleagues have tabled — legislation that will ensure that you have transparency and fairness in the business to platform relationship,” she said.

“So that if you’re a business and you find that ‘oh, my traffic has stopped’, that you know why it happened, when it happened and what to do to get your traffic back…. Because this will change the marketplace, and it will change the way we are protected as consumers but also as businesses.”

Google has tweeted an initial reaction to the decision, claiming Android has created “a vibrant ecosystem, rapid innovation and lower prices”.

.@Android has created more choice for everyone, not less. #AndroidWorks pic.twitter.com/FAWpvnpj2G

— Google Europe (@googleeurope) July 18, 2018

A company spokesperson confirmed to us that it will appeal the Commission’s decision.

In a lengthy blog post response, CEO Sundar Pichai expands on the company’s argument that the Android ecosystem has “created more choice, not less” — writing for example:

Today, because of Android, there are more than 24,000 devices, at every price point, from more than 1,300 different brands,including DutchFinnishFrenchGermanHungarianItalianLatvianPolishRomanianSpanish and Swedish
phone makers.

The phones made by these companies are all different, but have one thing in common — the ability to run the same applications. This is possible thanks to simple rules that ensure technical compatibility, no matter what the size or shape of the device. No phone maker is even obliged to sign up to these rules — they can use or modify Android in any way they want, just as Amazon has done with its Fire tablets and TV sticks.

He also has a veiled warning about the consequences should Google’s “free distribution” model for Android come unstuck, writing:

The free distribution of the Android platform, and of Google’s suite of applications, is not only efficient for phone makers and operators—it’s of huge benefit for developers and consumers. If phone makers and mobile network operators couldn’t include our apps on their wide range of devices, it would upset the balance of the Android ecosystem. So far, the Android business model has meant that we haven’t had to charge phone makers for our technology, or depend on a tightly controlled distribution model.

The fine is the second major penalty for the ad tech giant for breaching EU competition rules in just over a year — and the highest ever issued by the Commission for abuse of a dominant market position.

In June 2017 Google was hit with a then-record €2.4BN (~$2.7BN) antitrust penalty related to another of its products, search comparison service, Google Shopping. The company has since made changes to how it displays search results for products in Europe.

According to the bloc’s rules, companies can be fined 10 per cent of their global revenue if they are deemed to have breached European competition law.

Google’s parent entity Alphabet reported full year revenue of $110.9 billion in 2017. So the $5BN fine is around half of what the company could have been on the hook for if EU regulators had levied the maximum penalty possible.

“It’s a very serious illegal behavior”

The Commission said the size of the fine takes into account “the duration and gravity of the infringement”.

It also specified it had been calculated on the basis of the value of Google’s revenue from search advertising services on Android devices in the European Economic Area (per its own guidelines on fines).

Pressed during the press conference on how the Commission had determined the size of the penalty, which is double the penalty it issued in the Google Shopping case, Vestager emphasized the time period over which it had been going on, the fact of it having three components, and the effect of it, combined with Google’s rising turnover — adding finally for emphasis: “It’s a very serious infringement. It’s a very serious illegal behavior.”

Google will have three months to pay the fine but has confirmed it will appeal the decision — and legal wrangling could drag the process out for many years.

Vestager confirmed that while antitrust fines must technically be paid to the EU within the three month deadline they are placed in a closed account until the end of any appeals process — meaning the money cannot be used in the meanwhile.

So, in the Android case, the $5BN will likely be locked up until the late 2020s — assuming Google’s appeals aren’t successful. Should Google fail to overturn the Commission’s decision in the courts, Vestager said the money would be returned to EU Member States “using the same key as the contribution to the European budget”.

“You can impose a fine if someone has done someone wrong, you cannot impose a fine because you need the money. That would be wrong,” she added. “This of course means that it will take quite some time… if we win in court — and I can assure you we have done our best to make that possible — then, eventually, the money will come back to Member States to serve European citizens.”

Prior to the Commission’s record pair of fines for Google products, its next highest antitrust penalty is a €1.06BN antitrust fine for chipmaker Intel all the way back in 2009.

Yet only last year Europe’s top court ruled that the case against Intel — which focused on it offering rebates to high-volume buyers — should be sent back to a lower court to be re-examined, nearly a decade after the original antitrust decision. So Google’s lawyers are likely to have a spring in their step going into this next European antitrust battle.

The latest EU fine for Android has been on the cards for more than two years, given the Commission’s preliminary findings and consistently prescriptive remarks from Vestager during the course of what has been a multi-year investigation process.

And, indeed, given multiple EU antitrust investigations into Google businesses and business practices (the EU has also been probing Google’s AdSense advertising service — a separate investigation that Vestager today confirmed remains ongoing).

The Commission’s prior finding that Google is a dominant company in Internet search — a judgement reached at the culmination of its Google Shopping investigation last year — is also important, making the final judgement in the Android case more likely because the status places the onus on Google not to abuse its dominant position in other markets, adjacent or otherwise.

Announcing the Google Shopping penalty last summer, Vestager made a point of emphasizing that dominant companies “need to be more vigilant” — saying they have a “special responsibility” to ensure they are not in breach of antitrust rules, and also specifying this applies “in the market where it’s dominant” and “in any other market”. So that means — as here in the Android case — in mobile services too.

While a one-off financial penalty — even one that runs to so many billions of dollars — cannot cause lasting damage to a company as wealthy as Alphabet, of greater risk to its business are changes the regulators can require to how it operates Android which could have a sustained impact on Google if they end up reshaping the competitive landscape for mobile services.

In search of a remedy

At least that’s the Commission’s intention: To reset what has been judged an unfair competitive advantage for Google via Android, and foster competitive innovation because rival products get a fairer chance to impress consumers. Although it is avoiding prescribing any specific remedies — beyond telling Google to stop it.

For instance Vestager was asked whether the Commission might want Google to send push notifications to existing Android users to highlight alternatives, and thereby offer a remedy to consumers who had already been impacted by the choice constraints it placed on device makers and carriers.

“It is for Google to figure out how to lift this responsibility,” she told reporters. “It’s for them to do this… Google may make that kind of choice [i.e. sending push notifications] — on that we have taken no position.”

However the popularity and profile of Google services suggests that even if Android users are offered a choice as a result of an EU antitrust remedy — such as of which search engine, maps service, mobile browser or even app store to use — most will likely pick the Google-branded offering they’re most familiar with.

That said, the antitrust remedy could have the chance to shift consumers’ habits over time — if, for instance, OEMs start offering Android devices that come preloaded with alternative mobile services, thereby raising the visibility of non-Google apps and services. Which is clearly the Commission’s hope.

Interestingly, Google has been striking deals with Chinese OEMs in recent months — to brings its ARCore technology to markets where its core services are censored and its Play Store is restricted. And its strategy to workaround regional restrictions in China by working more closely with device makers may also be part of a plan to hedge against fresh regulatory restrictions being placed on Android elsewhere. 

Complainants in the EU’s earlier Google Shopping antitrust case continue to express displeasure with the outcome of the remedies Google has come up with on that front. And in a pointed statement responding to news that another EU antitrust penalty was incoming for Android, Shivaun Raff, CEO of Foundem, the lead complainant in Google Shopping case, said: “Fines make headlines. Effective remedies make a difference.”

So the devil will be in the detail of the Android remedies that Google comes up with.

“The decision requires Google to bring its illegal conduct to an end within 90 days in an effective manner,” said Vestager today. “At a minimum, our decision requires Google to stop and not to re-engage in the three types of restrictions that I have described. In other words our decision stops Google from controlling which search and browser apps manufacturers can pre-install on Android devices, or which Android operating system they can adopt. But it is Google’s sole responsibility to make sure that it changes its conduct in a way that brings the infringements to an effective end.”

“We will monitor this very closely,” she added, warning that failure to comply would invite further penalty payments — of up to 5% of the average daily turnover of Alphabet for each day of non-compliance, back dated to when the non-compliance started. “Our decision requires Google to change the way it operates and face the consequences of its action.”

Aptoide, one of the original app store complainants — which filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission in 2014 complaining that Google’s policies did not allow any alternative app stores which competed with the Play Store to be valid content — welcomed today’s decision, albeit cautiously, as a “positive first step”. So there’s a lot of ‘wait and see’ in the air.

CEO Paulo Trezentos told us: “The EU’s ruling justifying our antitrust arguments is a positive first step forward, for a market more open, more competitive and better tailored for the users. It is these types of decisions that push industries to bigger levels and we hope that this will help everyone evolve.”

On the Google Shopping compliance front, Vestager had some additional words of warning for Google — saying: “We have not yet taken a position on whether Google has complied with the decision. And since we haven’t done so this remains very much an open question.”

She also said the Commission is continuing to investigate other elements of Google’s business practices related to other vertical search services.

“I cannot prejudge the outcome of these ongoing investigations,” she said, also citing the ongoing AdSense probe, and adding that they continue to be “a top priority for us”.

Android as an antitrust ‘Trojan horse’

The European Commission announced its formal in-depth probe of Android in April 2015, saying then that it was investigating complaints Google was “requiring and incentivizing” OEMs to exclusively install its own services on devices on Android devices, and also examining whether Google was hindering the ability of smartphone and tablet makers to use and develop other OS versions of Android (i.e. by forking the open source platform).

Rivals — banding together under the banner ‘FairSearch‘ — complained Google was essentially using the platform as a ‘Trojan horse’ to unfairly dominate the mobile web. The lobby group’s listing on the EU’s transparency register describes its intent as promoting “innovation and choice across the Internet ecosystem by fostering and defending competition in online and mobile search within the European Union”, and names its member organizations as: Buscapé, Cepic, Foundem, Naspers, Nokia, Oracle, TripAdvisor and Yroo.

On average, Android has around a 70-75% smartphone marketshare across Europe. But in some European countries the OS accounts for an even higher proportion of usage. In Spain, for example, Android took an 86.1% marketshare as of March, according to market data collected by Kantar Worldpanel.

In recent years Android has carved an even greater market share in some European countries, while Google’s Internet search product also has around a 90% share of the European market, and competition concerns about its mobile OS have been sounded for years.

Last year Google reached a $7.8M settlement with Russian antitrust authorities over Android — which required the company to no longer demand exclusivity of its applications on Android devices in Russia; could not restrict the pre-installation of any competing search engines and apps, including on the home screen; could no longer require Google Search to be the only general search engine pre-installed.

Google also agreed with Russian antitrust authorities that it would no longer enforce its prior agreements where handset makers had agreed to any of these terms. Additionally, as part of the settlement, Google was required to allow third parties to include their own search engines into a choice window, and to allowing users to pick their preferred default search engine from a choice window displayed in Google’s Chrome browser. The company was also required to develop a new Chrome widget for Android devices already being used in Russia, to replace the standard Google search widget on the home screen so they would be offered a choice when it launched.

A year after Vestager’s public announcement of the EU’s antitrust probe of Android, she issued a formal Statement of Objections, saying the Commission believed Google has “implemented a strategy on mobile devices to preserve and strengthen its dominance in general Internet search”; and flagging as problematic the difficulty for Android users whose devices come pre-loaded with the Google Play store to use other app stores (which cannot be downloaded from Google Play).

She also raised concerns over Google providing financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile carriers on condition that Google search be pre-installed as the exclusive search provider. “In our opinion, as we see it right now, it is preventing competition from happening because of the strength of the financial incentive,” Vestager said in April 2016.

Google was given several months to respond officially to the antitrust charges against Android — which it finally did in November 2016, having been granted an extension to the Commission’s original deadline.

Thriving competition?

In its rebuttal then, Google argued that, contrary to antitrust complaints, Android had created a thriving and competitive mobile app ecosystem. It further claimed the EU was ignoring relevant competition in the form of Apple’s rival iOS platform — although iOS does not hold a dominant marketshare in Europe, nor Apple have a status as a dominant company in any EU markets.

Google also argued that its “voluntary compatibility agreements” for Android OEMs are a necessary mechanism for avoiding platform fragmentation — which it said would make life harder for app developers — as well as saying its requirement for Android OEMs to use Google search by default is effectively its payment for providing the suite for free to device makers (given there is no formal licensing fee for Android).

It also couched “free distribution is an efficient solution for everyone” — arguing it lowers prices for phone makers and consumers, while “still letting us sustain our substantial investment in Android and Play”.

In addition, Google sought to characterize open source platforms as “fragile” — arguing the Commission’s approach risked upsetting the “balance of needs” between users and developers, and suggesting their action could signal they favor “closed over open platforms”.

During today’s press conference, Vestager was asked whether she has concerns that the costs of handsets might rise should Google respond to the antitrust remedy by deciding to charge a licensing fee for OEMs to use Android, instead of distributing it for free.

She pointed to the revenue Google generates via the Play Store. “The revenue made from that is quite substantial so I think there is still a possibility for Google to recoup the investment made in developing the Android operating system,” she suggested.

“I think a number of different choices can be made by Google and it is for Google to make these choices,” she added. “What we see in general is that competition makes prices come down, gives you better choices. So you can have a theory that prices will come up, it is as likely that prices will come down because of more competition. The thing is now it’s open — there can be competition as to how this should work. And that’s the very point of the decision.”

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EU’s Google Android antitrust decision incoming…

Posted by | Android, Europe, Google, Mobile | No Comments

A decision in a long running EU antitrust probe of Google’s Android OS is due to land shortly.

European Commission officials are trailing a press conference with competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager — to announce an “antitrust decision” at 1pm CET, with a link to watch the event streamed live.

Press conference with Commissioner @vestager today at 13h00 CET on an antitrust decision – follow it live here: https://t.co/cN0JhSI5Yw

— Ricardo Cardoso (@RCardosoEU) July 18, 2018

Bloomberg is reporting the EU’s fine for Android will be in the region of $5BN — which would be the largest ever antitrust penalty handed down by the Commission.

The case focuses on whether Google has abused its market dominance and crowded out rivals by taking steps to ensure its own-brand apps and services are pre-loaded on Android devices.

In April, Reuters reported on a 2016 document it had reviewed which said the Commission planned to levy a large fine against Google and would also order the company to stop giving revenue-sharing payments to smartphone makers to pre-install only Google Search. Reuters also reported then that Google would be ordered to stop requiring its own Chrome browser and other apps to be installed alongside Google’s Play store.

The Commission will confirm the full details of its Android decision in the next few hours.

Stay tuned for more as we get it… 

Update: Full report here.

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Instagram is building non-SMS 2-factor auth to thwart SIM hackers

Posted by | Apps, instagram, Mobile, Security, Social, two factor authentication | No Comments

Hackers can steal your phone number by reassigning it to a different SIM card, use it to reset your passwords, steal your Instagram and other accounts and sell them for bitcoin. As detailed in a harrowing Motherboard article today, Instagram accounts are especially vulnerable because the app only offers two-factor authentication through SMS that delivers a password reset or login code via text message.

But now Instagram has confirmed to TechCrunch that it’s building a non-SMS two-factor authentication system that works with security apps like Google Authenticator or Duo. They generate a special code that you need to log in that can’t be generated on a different phone in case your number is ported to a hacker’s SIM card.

Buried in the Instagram Android app’s APK code is a prototype of the upgraded 2FA feature, discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Her work has led to confirmed TechCrunch scoops on Instagram Video Calling, Usage Insights, soundtracks for Stories and more.

When presented with the screenshots, an Instagram spokesperson told TechCrunch that yes, it is working on the non-SMS 2FA feature, saying, “We’re continuing to improve the security of Instagram accounts, including strengthening 2-factor authentication.”

Instagram actually lacked any two-factor protection until 2016 when it already had 400 million users. In November 2015, I wrote a story titled “Seriously. Instagram Needs Two-Factor Authentication.” A friend and star Instagram stop-motion animation creator Rachel Ryle had been hacked, costing a lucrative sponsorship deal. The company listened. Three months later, the app began rolling out basic SMS-based 2FA.

But since then, SIM porting has become a much more common problem. Hackers typically call a mobile carrier and use social engineering tactics to convince them they’re you, or bribe an employee to help, and then change your number to a SIM card they control. Whether they’re hoping to steal intimate photos, empty cryptocurrency wallets or sell desirable social media handles like @t or @Rainbow as Motherboard reported, there are plenty of incentives to try a SIM porting attack. This article outlines how you can take steps to protect your phone number.

Hopefully as knowledge of this hacking technique becomes more well-known, more apps will introduce non-SMS 2FA, mobile providers will make it tougher to port numbers and users will take more steps to safeguard their accounts. As our identities and assets increasingly go digital, it’s pin codes and authenticator apps, not just deadbolts and home security systems, that must become a part of our everyday lives.

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