Like many platform holders like Apple and Microsoft, Google is in the position of providing both the platform for other apps and their own applications which compete with those apps.
In general, it is not felt to be good practice for platform holders to exploit their advantage to compete against apps running on their platform, and this can be a source of antitrust complaints if the platform is dominant enough (e.g. Microsoft and Netscape).
According to a new report by The Information, however, Google has been doing just that with their Android platform, by using usage data for competing apps, such as Tiktok or other email apps, collected by Android to inform business decisions regarding their own apps such as YouTube and Gmail.
The data which is collected and stored by their Android Lockbox service, is collected with the user consent and is anonymised, and does not require the consent of the 3rd party app makers.
Google says they use this usage data to provide features such as prioritising most-used apps for battery management for example, but according to The Information’s sources when Google was considering launching a TikTok rival in India Google’s internal app teams turned to the same collection of data. Google reportedly also monitored the use of competing email apps on Android (presumable like Microsoft’s Outlook) and the use of Instagram and Facebook.
Google admitted that it collected app usage data, but said the data was freely available to app developers, but of course, those developers could only see their own app data, whereas Google had a comprehensive overview of all applications running on its platform.
The issue is in principle similar to Amazon’s use of sales data of 3rd party products on their platform to decide whether to release own-brand rivals, something the company is currently being investigated for in the EU.
There is currently increasing scrutiny of anti-competitive practices by large technology companies, with Google expected to testify next week to the US Congress House Judiciary Committee as part of a cross-party antitrust push.