Software Developers are fighting to prevent bureaucrats from ruining their livelihoods.
If you believe everything you read, software developers are at war with app stores. So it might surprise you to learn that we’ll be defending Android against the government in the EU courts next week.
It’s been 6 years since the European Commission announced a 4+B Euro fine against Google and ordered the company to give up control of the Android ecosystem. Without the agreements the Commission objects to, we’ve no doubt that millions of developers would have been the first to feel the loss as a lucrative and dynamic marketplace began its slow and inevitable decline. The government’s error was in overlooking the critical role that ecosystem stewards play in the modern software economy; maintaining order and investing for the collective success of otherwise random and often conflicting interests. The fact that ecosystem stewards make money along the way may make them less sympathetic, but software is a business and everyone is trying to strike it rich. Deep down, developers are capitalists after all.
We stepped in as “interveners” in Google’s battle with the European Commission in large part because, after asking what developers thought about how Google managed its Android business, the government recited facts that didn’t match the evidence we’d provided. We’re going to court to set the record straight.
One of our concerns is “fragmentation”. The term is used to describe a situation where an operating system like Android gets modified and replicated to create many new similar, but not identical, operating systems. For Devs, this means creating and maintaining many variations of each of their apps. Google uses tools like licensing to limit fragmentation in Android; something the EC disapproved of. Fragmentation is bad for developers and for the ecosystem; it raises costs, increases complexity, degrades software performance and decreases user satisfaction. In maintaining a vibrant and highly competitive market for Android applications, Google’s anti-fragmentation efforts are beneficial. Developers recognize this and the critical role an ecosystem steward plays in supporting everyone’s success.
The Commission also fundamentally misunderstood how developers view the mobile application marketplace – a marketplace with two large, competing players. Apple and Google each support an operating system and app store ecosystem that provides a route to market for 3rd party applications. Many developers build products that target both of these markets in an attempt to reach as many users as possible. In turn, Apple and Google compete to attract the best apps and the best developers to make their ecosystem more attractive to consumers. Better app store tools and OS features attract more developers that build more and better apps that attract more consumers. This also means that if the Android ecosystem frays or drops in quality, developers will shift more resources to Apple and others because that’s how capitalism works. Google has no monopoly in Android as long as it is locked in competition with Apple in a dynamic two-sided market linking developers to consumers. Developers would have it no other way.
We’re siding with Google over the European Commission because what the Commission has demanded causes direct and significant harm to the software developer community and sets the stage for more harm in the future. The EC’s findings mischaracterize how modern software ecosystems operate and their interference will actually reduce competition and cause consumer harm as well. Regulating big tech companies is a challenging task given the complexity and pace of innovation that tech embodies. Attempts at regulation that rely on academic theory and ignore the accumulated knowledge of actual industry participants are bound to cause more harm than good. We hope that in future the European Commission will consider stakeholder inputs more closely to avoid the cost of defending bad policy in court.