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Skyhook Wireless Sues Google Over Anti-Competitive Practices 228

Posted by Soulskill
from the location-location-location dept.
dwightk writes "According to a lawsuit brought by Skyhook Wireless, Google allegedly forced Motorola, among other Android handset makers, to use Google's own location services instead of alternatives like Skyhook's. Quoting the lawsuit: 'In complete disregard of its common-law and statutory obligations, and in direct opposition to its public messaging encouraging open innovation, Google wielded its control over the Android operating system ... to force device manufacturers to use its technology rather than that of Skyhook, to terminate contractual obligations with Skyhook, and to otherwise force device manufacturers to sacrifice superior end user experience with Skyhook by threatening directly or indirectly to deny timely and equal access to evolving versions of the Android operating system and other Google mobile applications.'" John Gruber points out another interesting excerpt from the complaint regarding Google's procedure for determining Android compliance, which includes what Skyhook calls an "amorphous outline of additional, non-standardized requirements" that "effectively gives Google the ability to arbitrarily deem any software, feature or function 'non-compatible.'"
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Skyhook Wireless Sues Google Over Anti-Competitive Practices

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  • by AHuxley (892839)
    Skyhook had links to Allen & Company (http://www.skyhookwireless.com/whoweare/management.php).
    Allen & Company had George Tenet of CIA fame as a managing director.
    The NSA likes Google, the CIA is/was close to Skyhook.
    This seems more like an interagency turf war over next gen real time phone tracking than the free market.
  • FUD (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 17, 2010 @09:42AM (#33610300)

    1) This requirement only applies to Android that is bundled with Google's proprietary apps/services. If you take Android without Google's integration and market... you can use what you want.

    2) There are many alternative markets out there.

    3) You can use alternate location services in apps from the market...

    4) Google tried to work with Skyhook requesting examples of their location data.... Skyhook refused... so since Google couldn't guarantee it would work with their services... etc

    • by hawkeyeMI (412577)
      Exactly, you can take Android and do with it what you like. Google's requiring that if you want to sell a device and use all of their proprietary stuff (build stock Android -- it won't include Market, Gmail, etc...), you need to use *all* of their proprietary stuff. A fair tradeoff, I think.
      • Re:FUD (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Drakino (10965) <{ten.ofniinim} {ta} {todhsals_d}> on Friday September 17, 2010 @10:04AM (#33610528) Journal

        So why didn't Google issue a stop ship on the Samsung Fascinate, the Galaxy S on Verizon that removes all traces of Google search and replaces it with Bing? There is no option on the phone to revert it either, and the phone does include the Market, GMail, etc.

        • by bomanbot (980297)
          Good question.

          I guess because in that case, Google would have to go against Verizon and I think against a big carrier, the chances of Google getting away with strong-arming one of those are pretty much nil, because Google is dependent on the carriers for Android marketshare and so apparently will let them get away with things like that.
    • Do you have any more information about 4)? I'd love to read more about that, since I was actually hoping Skyhook support would be integrated additionally for more accurate data...

      • Don't know much about 4) per se but pertaining to your desire:

        Layar [tmcnet.com]

        Just quickly scanned, not sure if it's exactly what you're looking for...

        • Thanks, I've been using that app for a long time... cool that they're using Skyhook in addition now though.

          But doesn't that show that Google isn't doing anything to stop the use of Skyhook in its OS? Layar works fine... I'm sure other apps would too.

          • But doesn't that show that Google isn't doing anything to stop the use of Skyhook in its OS? Layar works fine... I'm sure other apps would too.

            That's my take on it. Just because they don't integrate Skyhook into the phone doesn't mean Skyhook can't
            get in on the Android Marketplace. I'm reserving judgment for now but as far as I'm concerned TFA was basically
            a Skyhook PR + editorial comment in favor of Skyhook. I've no doubt Google (*cough* Eric Schmidt) is capable
            of dirty, say evil, business practices but just because another company says so doesn't make it so.

          • Re:FUD (Score:4, Interesting)

            by koiransuklaa (1502579) on Friday September 17, 2010 @10:24AM (#33610750)

            Read the summary at least :)

            OEMs are not allowed to ship other location products, or they lose their access to Google services, the market, etc. So the operating system itself is really open, but the ecosystem around it is "open as long as you do what we tell you to do".

            • That's more of a technical snag, isn't it? If you want to use Google apps (Maps, Nav etc.), you're going to need to use Google's geolocation service, since there's no easy way to integrate Skyhook's services - and why should there be?

              They're not even actively stopping the use of Skyhook... see Layar for Android: http://satellite.tmcnet.com/topics/satellite/articles/102092-layar-adds-skyhooks-core-engine-its-android-applications.htm [tmcnet.com]

              Uses Skyhook, is available in the Android market, and even ships on some hand

              • Look, it's not about "actively stopping the use of Skyhook", no-one is claiming that! What end users can do is just not relevant. This is all about OEMs and what they are allowed to do: Skyhook is saying that Google now prevents OEMs from using a service that competes with Google if they want to be part of the ecosystem.

                Google Maps has no technical reason to require exactly the Google location implementation, anything that provides the same API should do. But even if you were right, Google isn't just demand

                • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

                  The position doesn't make any logical sense though. Google has no problem with companies replacing Google functions, even significantly, as long as they are compatible. HTC does this on all their phones (and really delays Android updates, it kinda sucks in that way), and the alterations are significant. But they are compatible with everything else that is Android. Hell some phones have replaced Google Search with Bing, you would think if anything put Google into a hissy fit it would be that. Yet those

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Omnifarious (11933) *

      Yes, this is a case in which I'm willing to believe Google acted anticompetitively and with monopolistic intent, but I would like to see all the facts first. The charges Skyhook lodges are serious, and unlike the charge over search engine results, completely believable. But I still want to have more data on what actually happened before I decide on this one.

  • by InsertWittyNameHere (1438813) on Friday September 17, 2010 @09:45AM (#33610330)
    So whats the solution? Android has to either support everything in one standard or have multiple standards to encompass everyone's tech? Basically this would create a bloated (and more expensive) OS or more Android fragmentation (your device does geo-location this way with these results while mine does it another way with other results).

    I guess it's a thin line between between closed and controlled vs open and free. As more and more of these headaches (lawsuits, fragmentation) crop up for Google/Android we find more and more reasons why Steve Jobs has a point in everything he says is a benefit in his iOS closed model.
  • to force device manufacturers to use its technology rather than that of Skyhook, to terminate contractual obligations with Skyhook, and to otherwise force device manufacturers

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    • by minsk (805035)

      Google must have "forced" Apple to drop Skyhook as well. Or maybe there were reasons to develop a competitor, rather than continue to deal with Skyhook. Like Apple did [gigaom.com].

      Seriously, when did "Oh no, we're being forced to compete! Let's sue everyone!" become an acceptable business plan?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jgagnon (1663075)

        Seriously, when did "Oh no, we're being forced to compete! Let's sue everyone!" become an acceptable business plan?

        SCO has a patent as well as a trademark on that. One more lawsuit coming soon...

    • by MrLint (519792)

      Are you looking for people to use coerce?

    • to force device manufacturers to use its technology rather than that of Skyhook, to terminate contractual obligations with Skyhook, and to otherwise force device manufacturers

      You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

      You're right, they should have used the word "induce."

      iirc, it's illegal in the United States to intentionally induce someone to do something that would unknowingly violate the terms of a contract.

      (Which makes me wonder why Blizzard didn't bring that up in their

  • Scope Creep (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ipeunipig (934414)

    "effectively gives Google the ability to arbitrarily deem any software, feature or function 'non-compatible.'".

    How is this different from what other companies do in their 'App Approval' process? It seems to me that this lawsuit may cross into other areas if Google is found guilty.

    Scope Creep applies in more areas than software development!

    • by DJRumpy (1345787)

      I agree with you in general, but I believe Google tripped up here when they claimed it was an 'open' platform, but structured like a closed system for certain core apps. Folks like Apple never claimed it was open and never promised such. I believe that's where Skyhook's beef is.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The core OS is open, the Android Market and the Google Apps are not. Just because most of the big
        phone manufacturers seem too lazy to try and compete with Google's complete stack doesn't preclude
        the fact that they are welcome to take the Android OS, do whatever they want to it short of using
        the Google name and apps, and sell that instead. You can build on OS on Darwin and give it away or
        sell it but you can't call it Mac X or Apple This. That doesn't make Darwin any less open.

        • by DJRumpy (1345787)

          Yes but the issue is larger than just open or closed. Skyhook is claiming that Google doesn't provide them equal footing to peddle their services with handset vendors. The gist from the article indicated that perhaps the handset vendors are receiving OS distributions from Google first. The handset vendors then develop their platforms around Google's offerings before 3rd party vendors like Skyhook were given an opportunity to develop, package, and sell a service to a handset maker before they are already inv

      • It is an open platform. You can install third-party apps with no problem on regular android (I don't know about special flavors that the phone manufacturers have put out). You just can't install them through the Android Market. I trust the apps in the Android Market because Google has signed off on them. But, if I install a third-party app that I got off the web, then I make sure I research it to make sure it isn't malware. Google does not have a responsibility to allow all apps to be on their market.
  • by Vectormatic (1759674) on Friday September 17, 2010 @10:03AM (#33610512)

    and everyone does it, intel requires you to use a certain combo of intel chips in your laptop before you can slap a 'centrino' (or whatever 'ino is the flavor of the day) on it, AMD does the same, MS undoubtedly has some requirements before you can put a big shiney 'designed for windows XX' sticker on anything..

    Since the base of android is supposed to be open source, everyone should be free to take that, build a phone OS on it, use skyhook, but google has every right to stop you from using the android name on that device

    sure, it goes against the idea that android is supposedly completely free/open, but google has a right to protect their platform, and the experience on that platform

    • by koiransuklaa (1502579) on Friday September 17, 2010 @10:42AM (#33610958)

      sure, it goes against the idea that android is supposedly completely free/open, but google has a right to protect their platform, and the experience on that platform

      This, I believe, is the only problem here -- Apple does everything exactly like Google with the exception that they don't claim to be "open". Likewise Intel doesn't say Centrino is about choice in anyway. Google does, according to Daring Fireball Vic Gundotra says "If you believe in openness, if you believe in choice, if you believe in innovation from everyone, then welcome to Android". Now maybe he meant Android the base operating system, but I would have thought he meant the Android ecosystem -- OS, software, services, market...

      I think what you said is 100% true: Google has every right to stop you from using the Android name if you do anything Google doesn't like. But the fact remains, calling that an open system is dishonest.

      In this particular case I can't accept that they are just protecting the integrity of the platform: do you think Google would have done this if location wasn't a Google service? Would Google really have forced every manufacturer to use e.g. Skyhook if they thought Skyhook was really good?

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      So Skyhook metaphorically wants to create Iceweasel but name it Firefox? They could name the Android OS sans Google Maps anything other than Android, but they are adamant on using the Android name?
    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      Actually they'd still be able to use the Android name, no problem with that.

      They wouldn't be able to use the Market though, because they can't guarantee that all applications will work with your non-standard configuration. Since your apps may not be compatible, they don't want you to have access to their market because it would likely end up tarnishing Google's reputation, not the assholes who designed an incompatible system.

      That's what I believe is going on here, it's about access to Google's services, no

  • Pretty simple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by augustz (18082) on Friday September 17, 2010 @10:30AM (#33610818) Homepage

    This is posted in the "Know your rights" section.

    A couple of quick items:

    - Android is released under the Apache license. So skyhook and any handset manufacturer, if they don't like the direction google is taking the platform, can do whatever they want to the software. This is the definition of open source.

    - Conversely, open source doesn't mean skyhook can force a developer to do something. Lots of business who want to make money by inclusion in a project get upset when open source projects say no. See Reiser or any other open source bug tracker.

    - On top of the apache licensed Android, Google provides a set of pretty popular apps (Google Apps). Most but not all manufacturers use those apps. My guess is that if you pick up these apps, then that is where google is saying you have to use their location based service. So far these apps are good enough people generally use them, but eventually Microsoft or some other big player will pay enough $$ to a manufacturer that google maps / google search etc will go away on some handsets.

    - Google also offers the Android Market, another natural place of control. Many OS Distro's use marketplaces, update channels etc to monetize their platform. This also obviously creates lock-in.

    - Almost every open source project doesn't let you take their brand with your changes. So if you want to make lots of changes you probably can't call your OS "Android" vs Sense or MotoBlur. This also is common to Mozilla, Redhat etc etc. Mozilla was really picky about this (see Iceweasel).

    - Skyhook is suing Google for violating it's patents on doing location. This includes ""Server for Updating Location Beacon Database". Reading these patents will make you wish software patents were toned down a bit I think.

    - Skyhook is itself not an open source contribution to the handset, but apparently a pretty costly proprietary app on top of the handset with big royalties and patents with no patent pledges. In other words, if someone tries to do location service and to give it away for free, prepare to be sued by Skyhook.

    - Apple dropped Skyhook from the iphone 4 I believe? Be interesting to know why given they had been a customer and skyhook claims to have the best tech.

    - Open source being "nice". Big business in open source seem to still plan on using the layers above to fight for $.

    So some shades of grey in this :) Be interesting to see how the case evolves.

    • Re:Pretty simple (Score:4, Informative)

      by canajin56 (660655) on Friday September 17, 2010 @12:49PM (#33612334)
      To add further clarification, Skyhook is suing not, as they claim, because Google said you can't use Skyhook. This is false, as Samsung phones come with serveral Skyhook-based apps installed by default, at least on Bell. No, if you read the complaint, Skyhook had a contract with Motorola that said you have to disable Google Location Services as part of the API. Google is correct that disabling the API would mean some apps in the store would not work. They have made the choice that if an Android device cannot run apps from the store even if it's on the correct version of AndroidOS, then it's not allowed on the store. Motorola was not told that they can't use Skyhook, they were told that they can't use it exclusively. Though since Google Location Service was off by default on my phone, I'm inclined to believe that Skyhook is lying when they say Google demanded that GLS be on by default, and impossible to turn off. As far as I know, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a Droid phone that uses Skyhook by default, so long as the user has the option of turning GLS on as well. You're probably even allowed to make it so Skyhook is always on and can't be disabled. But, you can't disable part of the Android API and expect to be compliant.
  • What if Google bowed to enabling Skyhook? Wouldn't Skyhook then start a law suit over Google's potential for piggy-backing Skyhook's data with Google's? The way I see it, Skyhook would complain either way.

    Google is interested, of course, in using their services because they know they can rely on their services and their own motivations. For Google to set up an agreement with Skyhook or to have service providers or handset makers do that only serves Skyhook's interests and would likely cost everyone else

  • If this is true, then it is deeply disturbing and a symptom of a serious problem in the control that companies can have over other companies in the current legislative environment.

    Back in the old days, companies such as Microsoft couldn't simply deem that competing applications were "non-compatible"--they had to actually go to the effort of making sure that Windows would hobble them. (Remember "Windows isn't done until Lotus won't run"?)

    • by canajin56 (660655) on Friday September 17, 2010 @12:51PM (#33612384)
      That's not what happened, though. It's not that Skyhook is incompatible. Skyhook software is allowed. My Droid came with Skyhook software on it, and on the first page with Google Maps bumped to page 2 of the app list. The issue is that Skyhook tried to force Motorola to make Skyhook always on, and make it so the user cannot use Google Location Service, or any software that relies on Google Location Service, such as Google Maps. Google said "no, you can use Skyhook as the default but you are not allowed to disable parts of the AndroidOS API" and Skyhook is crying. The Motorola AndroidOS implementation is what was decided "non-compatible", because they disabled part of the API. It's not Skyhook that's not compatible.
  • Microsoft will be suing Google because Android needs a GMail account to utilize some of its features. God, I can't imagine using Hotmail again. BTW, I'm not so sure about Google's location service. Either I've secretly discovered warp drive or something is screwy. On many occasions, my location randomly bounces from the middle of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

  • by papa_lizard (1690036) on Friday September 17, 2010 @11:19AM (#33611372)
    If you had read the actual jury demand (oh wait, this is Slashdot, nevermind), you would've realized it's not just about Android being sold as "Open". The main things that will probably get Google fried are:
    1. 1. Skyhook had a contract with Motorola to include Skyhook's technology in their handsets. When Google found out, they forced Motorola to breach their contract and replace Skyhook's technology with Google's.
    2. 2. Skyhook had a contract with a company (called "Company X" in the demand) to include Skyhook's technology in their handsets. These handsets, with Skyhook's technology integrated, passed the Android certification tests put forth by Google. Then Google discovered that the handsets weren't using Google's location services, and forced Company X to remove the Skyhook tech or face losing the "Android" certification. (Again, forcing another breach of contract)

    As a result of Google forcing Skyhook's partners to breach their contracts, Skyhook lost millions of dollars of licensing revenue and is seeking reparation.

    • by bomanbot (980297)
      Thanks, I wish I had mod points right now to mod you up.

      I would like to wait how this develops to make a final judgement, but this looks pretty serious and I hate to say this, but if those allegations are found to be true, those tactics look like the bad old days of someone like Microsoft or Intel strong-arming their business partners into shady deals in order to drive their competition out :-P
    • by Shadow99_1 (86250)

      The case will hinge around the fact that while Android is open these companies wanted to use Skyhook+google apps, which as skyhook competes with part of google apps is disallowed under google's rules for use of google apps. Most likely these companies mentioned by Skyhook weren't forced per se to stop using skyhook, but given a choice of not using google apps or not using skyhook. These companies chose not to use skyhook in favor of having google apps.

      If you search for the requirements to use google android

  • Utterly False (Score:5, Interesting)

    by canajin56 (660655) on Friday September 17, 2010 @12:44PM (#33612296)

    Here's what happened. Motorola agreed as part of the contract with Skyhook, to intentionally disable Google Location Service. Google says you cannot access the app store without all of Android being functional, and that they can't have Skyhook as the exclusive location software, and that it has to have both. Skyhook is making it out that Google Location spys on you without consent. (My Droid tells me how it works and asks if I'm sure I want to turn it on, and promises the info is anonymous, so that's a blatant lie). They also say that Google isn't saying it has to support both, they're saying it has to be always-on, which is false. Google Location Service is off by default on my phone, so I doubt there's a requirement that it can't ever be turned off. Further, my Droid phone came with a GPS Navigator software, and Layar Augmented Reality Browser, both of which show me the Skyhook logo when I run them, and both of which run fine with Google Location Services turned off, and in that case rely exclusivly on GPS and Skyhook data.

    So I'm inclined to believe Skyhook is lying, or stupid. Skyhook tried to force Motorola to disable Google Location Service or else Skyhook would terminate their contract. Google said you can't do that or we won't let it on the app store, since without the full Android API we can't say the other location apps will work and it will harm the customers. Skyhook seems to be deliberately misstating this as Google Location Service being required to be "always on" and always spying on the user without consent (the repeatedly refer to it as tracking data without permission, and calling it a malicious and inferior product). Since my Samsung phone uses both Google Location Service and Skyhook, and since GLS is off by default AND doesn't mislead me, I'm inclined to believe that Skyhook is lying through their teeth.

    Further, Skyhook said another draconian condition is that Motorola should have a box informing the user that Skyhook will be logging nearby WAP, just like the GOogle Location Service does when you turn it on. Skyhook says this is evil of them. Fucking hypocrites, lying and saying Google presents no information that GLS logs nearby wireless networks, and then having the gall to call being asked to do so themselves unreasonable.

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