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are you there google? it's me margaret

E-mails Show How Google Uses Android to Make Phone Companies ‘Do Things We Want’

Ted Morgan, Google enemy No. 683.

As part of a lawsuit against Google, a Massachusetts court has made public a stack of internal e-mails that appear to make an even bigger joke of its Android operating system's pretense of "openness". Google offers the system free to handset makers, as long as they stick to a "compatibility" standard determined by Google. In one of the e-mails, Dan Morrill, a manager in the Android group, wrote that phone manufacturers were well aware that “we are using compatibility as a club to make them do things we want.” On the one hand, Google has to maintain quality control and consistency to make sure Android can sync up with hardware and software made by other companies. On the other hand, getting other players to "do what we want" sounds like a monopoly in the making.

The lawsuit was filed by Skyhook Wireless, a pioneering company that developed a technique for combining location data from Wi-Fi hot spots, cell-phone towers, and GPS satellites to pinpoint a user's location. (Before the iPhone was launched, Skyhook's CEO Ted Morgan launched a three-year project driving around the country to map Wi-Fi hot spots.) Last April, Skyhook struck a deal with Motorola and Samsung to have the companies' Android phones use Skyhook to track location instead of Google's free location data service. “That’s when Google went looking for compatibility compliance issues," Morgan told the New York Times. By July, both Motorola and Samsung reversed the decision.

Google has been careful to refer to the suit as a desperate attempt by a small company to regain the ground it lost to Google's free services. And according to TechCrunch, it was actually Skyhook, and not Google, who insisted on being the only service collecting location data from Android phones. But the e-mails paint a slightly different portrait. "This feels like a disaster," a software engineer named Charles Mendis wrote about the Motorola deal, followed by a frowny face emoticon. Before trying to plant language with Motorola's PR team that made it look like less of a burn for Google to lose to Skyhook, Steve Lee, another Android product manager wrote:


That [Skyhook/Motorola deal] would be awful for Google because it will cut off our ability to continue collecting data to maintain and improve our location database.

Collecting that data is part of the reason (don't freak out) Google has been secretly tracking your location via Android. When you see a smartphone app that tells you the closest bar to wherever you're standing or how many blocks away your friend is, Google — and Apple — see billions in mobile advertising.

Suit Opens a Window Into Google [NYT]
By Way Of Lawsuit, The Location FUD Creeps Up On Android As Well [TechCrunch]
Earlier: How Much Should You Freak Out About Apple and Google Tracking Your Location?

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Photo: Ted Morgan/Twitter