Google may have become heavy-handed in pressuring its Android device manufacturers to follow certain guidelines, recently released internal documents show. A stack of internal e-mail messages from Google, which a Massachusetts state court made public last week, provide a glimpse into the competitive tactics and decision-making inside a business that is crucial to the company's growth -- its Android software for smartphones.
The e-mails in the case, filed eight months ago, recalls another parallel with Microsoft. Big high-tech companies, in particular, are run and knit together with electronic communications, which can leave a minute-by-minute trail for lawyers and litigants to mine.
In the Massachusetts court, Skyhook Wireless has alleged that Google used its control over Android not to maintain the quality of its technology, but to squelch a competitor.
Skyhook had originally won a contract to replace Google's location services with its own in all Motorola phones. The move apparently bothered the Mountain View, Calif.-based company, and it allegedly pressured Motorola into dropping the agreement. Skyhook then sued Google, alleging anti-competitive behavior.
In one of the emails from May 2010, Android group manager Dan Morrill makes reference to a "compatibility standard." While such a set of guidelines shouldn't be all that surprising, the way he described it is: that it was obvious that "we are using compatibility as a club to make them do things we want," according to the New York Times.
Such terminology seems to suggest that Google's oft-repeated boast about Android being "open" may not be true. Indeed, carriers have increasingly clamped down on what it will allow phones to do, and now it appears Google is ready to make sure phone manufacturers do what it wants as well.
There could be a valid reason for this, however: unlike Apple, Google must deal with a multitude of devices and ensure that Android works properly on every device. Such a conundrum is the same type of problem that Microsoft has with Windows, and also required the Redmond company to set standards for what it would support.
In any case, Google seems to be treading a fine line between acting in the best interest of the entire ecosystem and outright anticompetitive behavior: Morrill's off-color comments certainly give critics fodder that Google is practicing the latter.
The e-mail from the court case does suggest that Google, as the company says of itself, is a relentless learning organization. At least one lesson learned apparently comes from Microsoft's lengthy legal battles of years back, when unrestrained comments in employee e-mail often proved so troublesome for the software giant.
The final entry in one much-redacted e-mail thread came in reply to a colleague's pledge to get back with some detail about Skyhook.
"PLEASE DO NOT! Thread-kill and talk to me off-line with any questions," Patrick Brady, a partner manager at Google, wrote on June 25, 2010.