Skyhook vs. Google Lawsuit Questions Android "Openness"

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Emails Surfacing in Skyhook Lawsuit Reveal a Different View of Google's Openness

Since the earliest days of the Android operating system, Google has waved the "open source" banner, and positioned themselves as champions of the superiority of their "open platform".

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But emails which have recently seen light in connection with a lawsuit from Skyhook raise serious questions about Google's commitment to openness.

Skyhook, a small innovator and provider of location-based technology services, filed suit against Google last September, accusing the latter of unfair competitive tactics and "business interference". In a case filed in Massachusetts court which is remarkably reminiscent of Microsoft's woes, Skyhook claims that Google strong armed phone manufactures to keep Skyhook off their hardware. Google, in response, says its intention is merely to preserve the integrity of the Android "ecosystem". Recently, a judge rejected Google's petition to either dismiss the case or issue a summary judgement, opening the door for new evidence to come to light.

Using Compatibility as a Club

What is making things rather messy for Google is a trail of internal emails, paralleling earlier antitrust suits against Microsoft. One message in particular, which is already reverberating through the news world, was penned by one of the managers of the Android project, Dan Morrill, last August. He mentioned that cellular manufacturers were onto the fact that they were "using compatibility as a club to make them do things we want."

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Back in April 2010, Skyhook had reached deals with two of the top three phone makers, Motorola and Samsung, to have their phones include Skyhook's location technology, which it touts as vastly superior to other positioning methods. Skyhook's software-only location system uses a melange of data including a huge database of Wi-Fi access points. But by July, both of these deals had been reversed. Ted Morgan, the CEO of Skyhook, says this was the result of a campaign by Google, themselves a major player in location-based data, to block Skyhook's inclusion on Android phones, and that the compatibility issues were concocted after the fact and retrofitted to further Google's business plans.

Google continues to maintain that their concern is, in fact, to maintain compatibility. They have also claimed that allowing Skyhook data on Android phones would produce "data contamination", since it comes from a hodgepodge of sources, a claim which a manager at Motorola, Stephen McDonnell, stated was ungrounded, in an email in May 2010.

Indeed, there are formidable challenges in the development and maintenance of an operating system which needs to coexist with disparate hardware and software created by a variety of manufacturers and developers. Once again, we see parallels to Microsoft's quandary back in the days of the burgeoning PC world. But the email trail may be the smoking gun in this case, and paints a picture of a Google more concerned with losing their stake in the extremely valuable location business.

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Source: NY Times