Saturday, August 21, 2021

Court Documents About Epic v. Google and App Store

Sean Hollister:

There was never any question what Epic Games wanted when it took Apple to court: the 48-second “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite” made it clear App Store hypocrisy was the agenda. But the justification for a parallel case against Google wasn’t as clear-cut until today — it’s only now we’re learning about the most damning accusations against the Android giant.

On Thursday, Judge James Donato unsealed a fully unredacted version of Epic’s original complaint against Google (via Leah Nylen), and it alleges the company was so worried about Epic setting a precedent by abandoning the Play Store that it unleashed a broad effort to keep developers from following the company’s lead. That included straight-up paying top game developers, including Activision Blizzard to stick around, and sharing additional chunks of its revenue with phone makers if they agreed not to preinstall any other app stores.


And that’s on top of the dealings Google had with Epic directly in July 2018, when Alphabet’s CFO and other senior Google executives reportedly offered up to $208 million in “special benefits” over three years to bring Fortnite to Google Play — in what would effectively be Google taking 25 percent of the game’s revenue instead of the standard 30 percent. Google allegedly tried to convince Epic to take the deal by pointing out the “frankly abysmal” 15+ step process gamers would have to endure to sideload Fortnite on Android.

Nick Statt (tweet):

Google executives discussed approaching Chinese gaming giant Tencent about purchasing shares in Epic Games or potentially orchestrating a hostile takeover of the company, according to court documents in the ongoing Epic v. Google antitrust case that are no longer redacted as per a court order issued on Wednesday.


Other unredacted sections of Epic’s complaint reveal more new details, including those from a meeting between Apple and Google that took place in 2018 to discuss increasing search revenue growth; Google pays Apple large sums of money to make Google Search the default search engine on the mobile Safari for the iPhone. Following the meeting, an Apple representative suggested to a Google senior member that the two companies team up and “work as if we are one company” to combat efforts like Epic’s to undermine mobile app store commission rates and restrictions against alternative app stores.


Other now-unsealed portions of the complaint deal with new information surrounding Google’s so-called “Project Hug,” an initiative designed to sway top Android app makers and game developers not to leave the Play Store using kickbacks, commission reductions and other financial incentives.

Thomas Claburn:

The unredacted details, highlighted in a separate redlined filing [PDF] and incorporated into an amended complaint filed on Friday [PDF], suggest Google has gone to great lengths to discourage competing app stores and to keep developers from making waves.


These agreements allegedly included the Premiere Device Program, launched in 2019, to give OEMs financial incentives like 4 per cent, or more, of Google Search revenues and 3-6 per cent of Google Play spending on their devices in return for ensuring Google exclusivity and the lack of apps with APK install rights.


The unidentified senior Google executive is quoted as acknowledging that such a move would be “difficult move in the face of the EC [European Commission] decision but we have good privacy/security arguments about why sideloading is dangerous to the user).”

When Epic refused the deal, the complaint contends that Google did indeed try to generate fear of sideloading by releasing data about insecure sideloaded Android apps during Fornite’s Android debut.

Hartley Charlton:

In October 2010, Jobs declared at a corporate strategy presentation that a key company aim would be to use the cloud to “tie all of our products together, so we further lock customers into our ecosystem.”

In 2013, Apple’s senior vice president of software and services, Eddy Cue, lauded the potential of bundling iTunes gift cards with new Apple devices instead of putting them on sale to lock customers further into the company’s ecosystem and dissuade them from switching to a different brand. He also raged at the Apple Retail team for its disinterest in selling iTunes Store gift cards.


In 2016, Apple’s Elizabeth Lee said that “Although they may be our best and the brightest apps, Matt feels extremely strong about not featuring our competitors on the App Store ,” when asked why the company does not want to highlight apps from Google and Amazon. The email thread suggested that this was standard App Store practice, with some competing apps being seen “through a slightly different lens than most.”


Apple’s Tom Reyburn seemingly admitted that “LinkedIn has been rejected for using the same language on their subscription call to action button that Apple uses in our own apps.”


Apple also realized that it had erroneously allowed two separate games that featured school shootings on the App Store , seven months after they were approved. Discussions put the error down to the fact that “it took a total of 32 seconds to review both apps.”


Update (2021-09-08): See also: Hacker News.

Nick Heer:

White claims that “most Android devices ship with two or more app stores preloaded”, and cites Samsung’s Galaxy Store as an example. But Epic’s lawyers claim, beginning on page 45, that Google pressured Samsung into only allowing the Google Play and Samsung Galaxy Store on its phones, thereby scuttling a distribution deal with Epic for its own app store. This was a shift away from what the suit describes as Google’s intent since 2011 to altogether prevent Samsung from running its own app marketplace.

The results of Google’s deals with Samsung allegedly became part of “Project Agave”, thus forming the basis for the suit filed by the attorneys general this year.

2 Comments RSS · Twitter

> He also raged at the Apple Retail team for its disinterest in selling iTunes Store gift cards.

Who is this Jennifer running Apple Retail?

>Who is this Jennifer running Apple Retail?

Eddy Cue, the Apple executive with the reverse Midas touch.

Leave a Comment