Google says CCI’s orders strike blow at digital adoption in India
For the first time since Google was pulled up by India’s anti-competition watchdog, the tech giant has come out with a statement.
In a blog, Google said, it has partnered deeply with India in the last several years of its exciting digital transformation. However, at a time when only half of India’s population is connected, the directions in the Competition Commission of India’s (CCI’s) order strikes a blow at the ecosystem-wide efforts to accelerate digital adoption in the country.
Google is appealing these directions before Indian courts. While there has been a lot of reporting and debate on the subject, it is critical that our users and stakeholders understand the full import of what lies at stake.
Over the last 15 years, through Android’s free open-source software and suite of high-quality apps, Google has helped device manufacturers make smartphones more affordable by a vast margin. Today, any user can get their hands on a fully functional smartphone at less than Rs. 6000 from numerous brands.
The number of annual app downloads in India reached a new high of 29 billion in 2022, making it the second biggest app market after China (Source: App Annie), offering developers in India and elsewhere, a strong platform to establish viable businesses on Play.
On what is at risk, Google said that safety, affordability and expanded use cases for the next wave of users will be the pillars to get the next 700 million users online. It said unfortunately, the ordered remedies on Android strike blows to these very areas.
The CCI order asks Google to allow app developers to use forked versions. Google in its blog said that when there are many different and unique versions of Android (so-called ‘forks’), it harms the consistent and predictable ecosystem that has benefitted users and developers for over 15 years.
Devices built on incompatible ‘forks’ would prevent Google from securing those devices, as these versions will not support the security and user safety features that Google provides.
Lack of robust and consistent security upgrades will leave the users of those devices exposed to cybercrime, bugs, and malware – which is most troubling for the millions of new internet users who are especially vulnerable.
Predatory apps that expose users to financial fraud, data theft and a number of other dangers abound on the internet, both from India and other countries. While Google holds itself accountable for the apps on Play Store and scans for malware as well compliance with local laws, the same checks may not be in place for apps sideloaded from other sources.
Expensive phones: Since incompatible Android forks will not support the security and user safety features that Google provides, security responsibilities for these devices will instead fall to the OEMs, who will need to invest extensively in creating consistent, all-year-round security upgrades themselves.
This will result in higher costs for the OEMs, and consequently, more expensive devices for Indian consumers.
In a forked Android environment, small developers will be forced to prioritize which of the various incompatible Android ‘forks’ they write and maintain apps for, as their costs will increase with each additional version they support.
A crucial juncture for India
India is at a juncture where we must come together to bring down barriers to access and make safe and secure smartphones available to all, supported by a flourishing digital ecosystem.
Foundational disruptions at this stage could set us back years and undo the deep investments and effort made by OEMs, developers and the industry overall.
It is a crucial moment for India – and our hope is that we, along with all the stakeholders of this vibrant ecosystem, can continue to build on top of this foundation.
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