Google’s Android app store monopoly violates antitrust law, jury finds

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Written By Sedoso Feb

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney jumping for joy at news of the verdict.
Epic Games

While Epic’s antitrust arguments against Google had many similarities to those in the company’s earlier case against Apple, the verdicts could not have been more different. A federal jury took only a few hours of deliberation Monday afternoon to determine that Google had an illegal monopoly in the markets for Android app distribution and in-app billing services.

The jury unanimously answered “yes” to all 11 questions on the verdict form, indicating that Epic had proven those monopolies existed in every worldwide market except for China. Google “engaged in anticompetitive conduct” to establish or maintain the monopoly and illegally tied the Google Play store to the use of Google Play billing, according to the verdict. The jury also agreed with Epic’s arguments that programs like “Project Hug” and agreements signed with Android phone OEMs represented an “unreasonable restraint on trade,” harming Epic in the process.

With the verdict set, U.S. District Judge James Donato will hold hearings next month to determine the best way to remedy Google’s anticompetitive monopoly power. During the trial, Epic did not ask for monetary damages, but did ask that it and other developers be able to introduce their own Android app stores and use their own billing systems on Android devices “without restriction.”

The verdict came after closing arguments where Epic lawyer Gary Bornstein argued that Google’s actions “led to higher prices for developers and consumers, as well as less innovation and quality.” In its own closing arguments, Google lawyer Jonathan Kravis said that the Android-maker is effectively constrained in the mobile app market by Apple, and that “Android phones cannot compete against the iPhone without a great app store on them.”

“Today’s verdict is a win for all app developers and consumers around the world. It proves that Google’s app store practices are illegal and they abuse their monopoly to extract exorbitant fees, stifle competition and reduce innovation,” Epic said in a statement posted to its website. “The evidence presented in this case demonstrates the urgent need for legislation and regulations that address Apple and Google strangleholds over smartphones, including with promising legislation in progress right now with the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill in the UK and the Digital Markets Act in the EU.”

Google Government Affairs & Public Policy VP Wilson White said in a statement provided to press that the company would challenge the verdict, and that Android and Google Play “provide more choice and openness than any other major mobile platform. The trial made clear that we compete fiercely with Apple and its App Store, as well as app stores on Android devices and gaming consoles. We will continue to defend the Android business model and remain deeply committed to our users, partners, and the broader Android ecosystem.”

A long road

Fortnite on Android without Google Play is as difficult as playing Fortnite while skydiving. OK, they didn’t literally say that, but work with me here…”>Epic says launching <em>Fortnite</em> on Android without Google Play is as difficult as playing <em>Fortnite</em> while skydiving. OK, they didn’t literally say that, but work with me here…” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/fortnite-android-800×450-1-640×360.jpg” width=”640″ height=”360″ srcset=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/fortnite-android-800×450-1.jpg 2x”><figcaption class=
Enlarge / Epic says launching Fortnite on Android without Google Play is as difficult as playing Fortnite while skydiving. OK, they didn’t literally say that, but work with me here…
Epic Games

The verdict comes over three years after Epic first introduced its own “Epic Direct Payment” option into mobile versions of Fortnite. That move quickly triggered the game’s removal from both the iOS App Store and Google Play, leading Epic to unleash pre-planned lawsuit against both Apple and Google.

Proceedings in the Google trial largely waited until the conclusion of Epic’s trial against Apple. In that case, a judge (and not a jury) decided in late 2021 that Apple had not violated antitrust law, a decision that was upheld by an appeals court in April.

While Google does allow competing App Stores to run on Android (unlike Apple on iOS), Epic argued that Google engaged in a “bribe and block” strategy that prevented those competing stores from gaining an effective foothold in the market. Google also spent “hundreds of millions of dollars” to top Android developers in a program called Project Hug to prevent the “contagion risk” of those companies distributing their apps outside of the Google Play store, Epic argued during the case.

“Victory over Google,” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney wrote on social media after the verdict was handed down. “After 4 weeks of detailed court testimony, the California jury found against the Google Play monopoly on all counts. … Thanks for everyone’s support and faith! Free Fortnite!”

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