Google faces a fine of up to $11 billion for the way it ties Google Search and Chrome to the Android mobile operating system.
Google’s Android mobile operating system is based on open-source software, but some of the most useful parts of it – Maps and Search, for instance – are proprietary, and the company makes sure that anyone wanting to use those features has to use other services that make it money too.
If an investigation by the European Union’s antitrust authority finds that that behavior constitutes abuse of a dominant market position, it could expose Google to a fine of up to $11 billion.
While the fine won’t have much effect on Android users, device makers or service providers, the legal remedies that usually accompany such findings could mean bigger changes to the way Google licenses Android, and in particular access to its search tools and Play store.
If Google were forced to change those agreements, it could become easier for major phone manufacturers to sell devices with “forks” of the Android software that provide better security or privacy than Google’s default, or to include search engines or browsers better suited to the needs of businesses.
What the Android antitrust case is about
What most people see as the Android operating system is part open source, part proprietary. AOSP, the Android Open Source Project, is the core software that handles interactions with the phone hardware and allows calls and internet access over the wireless network. Anyone can use and develop it.
However, another key component is GMS, Google Mobile Services, which Google describes as “the best of Google.” It’s the part of a phone’s software that most people think of when they talk about Android, and includes Google’s voice-controlled mobile assistant; Maps and the Chrome browser; as well its Gmail, Youtube, Photos and chat apps. Most crucially of all, it includes the Google Play store, giving access to millions of other apps, games, movies and TV shows, music tracks and magazines.
You don’t have to pay to use or distribute GMS, but you do have to enter a license agreement with Google. Those agreements are at the heart of the case.
When did the EU start the Android antitrust case?
In April 2015, the European Commission opened a formal investigation into whether Google had breached EU antitrust rules by entering into anticompetitive agreements or abusing a possible dominant market position. Such actions could have hindered the development and market access of rival mobile operating systems, applications and services to the detriment of consumers and developers of innovative services and products, the Commission said at the time.
Android is the most-used mobile OS in Europe ahead of Apple’s iOS, as it was when the Commission began its investigation. Since then, however, two other competitors have dropped out of the smartphone software market: Microsoft Windows Mobile and BlackBerry OS.
The Commission focused its investigation on three allegations: Whether Google illegally hindered the development and market access of rival mobile applications or services by requiring or incentivising smartphone and tablet manufacturers to exclusively pre-install Google’s own applications or services;
Whether Google has prevented smartphone and tablet manufacturers who wish to install its applications and services on some of their Android devices from developing and marketing modified and potentially competing versions of Android (so-called “Android forks”) on other devices, thereby illegally hindering the development and market access of rival mobile operating systems and mobile applications or services;
And whether Google has illegally hindered the development and market access of rival applications and services by tying or bundling certain Google applications and services distributed on Android devices with other Google applications, services and/or application programming interfaces of Google.
Has the EU formally charged Google?
In April 2016, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager sent Google a “Statement of Objections” – formal charges that it expected the company to answer. It accused the company of a breach of EU antitrust rules, abusing its dominant position by imposing restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators.
Google, it said, had implemented a strategy on mobile devices to preserve and strengthen its dominance in general internet search. That strategy meant Google Search was pre-installed and as the default or exclusive search service on most Android devices sold in Europe – and also prevented rival search engines using competing mobile browsers and operating systems to enter the market.
It also accused Google of giving smartphone manufacturers and mobile network operators financial incentives to exclusively pre-install Google Search on their devices, or of making such installation a condition for access to the Play store.
A Statement of Objections is a formal document issued by the European Union’s antitrust authority, the European Commission, in cases of anticompetitive practices or abuse of market dominance. It sets out how the Commission believes a company has breached EU law, and gives the company a chance to defend itself, either in writing or in an oral hearing.
The next steps
If, after reviewing the company’s response, the Commission still feels it has a case, it either invites the company to make formal commitments to remedy the situation, or it publishes a decision of its own imposing remedies, a fine, or both.
There’s no deadline for the Commission to complete its investigation, but indications from Brussels are that it will publish a decision in the Android case before August 2018.
In the Google Android case, the Commission could theoretically fine it up to $11 billion, or 10 percent of parent company Alphabet’s $110 billion worldwide revenue in 2017 – but recent antitrust fines have come nowhere near that level.
There’s a separate investigation ongoing into the company’s AdSense online advertising service, looking at the restrictions it places on the ability of third-party websites to display search ads from its competitors. That could expose the company to a similar-size fine.
And, of course, the Commission has already hit Google with one antitrust fine, for abusing the dominance of its search engine to promote its own comparison shopping services. That cost it $2.7 billion in June 2017, around 3% of its prior-year revenue.
Other recent fines for abuse of a dominant market position are in the same ballpark. In January 2018 it fined Qualcomm $1.2 billion, or just under 5% of annual revenue, while Intel’s $1.3 billion fine in June 2014 represented about 3.8% of revenue.
Given the nature of the Commission’s complaints, it could impose remedies requiring Google to change the way it licenses the GMS add-ons to Android, including its search engine and the Play store, or seek commitments from the company that it will make such changes.
That could mean mobile phones with access to the Play store, but with some other search engine or browser set as the default in place of Google Search or Chrome, appearing on the market from major manufacturers.
So, you’ve been thinking about biting the gun and becoming an AT&T customer?
Good thinking, but which plan to choose? Clearly, the abundance of options in AT&T’s roster don’t make the choice any easy, but we are here to help.
A couple of weeks ago, we walked you through all the different plans in Verizon’s lobby, but now it’s time to subject AT&T to the same treatment.
AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced and AT&T Unlimited Choice Enhanced
Ever since AT&T caved in and finally offered truly unlimited plans last year, its Unlimited Plus Enhanced plan has positioned itself as the most-loaded out plan. This plan is perfect for families due to the flexibility of the included line options and the loadout of features, compromise with speed, streaming quality, or the ability to use a mobile hotspot.
Meanwhile, AT&T Unlimited Choice Enhanced is mostly the same unlimited data/text/voice calls ordeal, but it comes with less features and is a bit more affordable. Both plans are perfect for family usage scenarios, and choosing one over the other would highly depend on your stance towards video streaming quality, mobile hotspot, and speed throttling.
Here’s a rundown of the pricing of the different lines, and after that we’d rundown other notable features of the plan. Note that the prices below have AutoPay and Paperless billing discounts applied to them.
Any additional line
AT&T Unlimited & More Premium
$75 per line
$57 per line
$48 per line
AT&T Unlimited & More
* – Prices after discount with AutoPay and Paperless billing.
It’s obvious that the more, the merrier.
As you can see, once you start adding new lines to the AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced plan, prices become more and more affordable, making them more and more palatable for the regular family of up to four out there, and overall, a better deal.
With prices out of the way, let’s see what the two unlimited data plans offer as far as data allotments, features, and speeds are concerned.
AT&T Unlimited & More Premium
Yes, temporarily at busy times after using >22/GB per line/mo
HD, up to 1080p (may be limited to SD after using >22GB/line/mo)
Yes, up to 15GB
$15/mo discount on DIRECTV or DIRECTV NOW
AT&T Unlimited & More
Yes, at busy times
SD, up to 480p
$15/mo discount on DIRECTV NOW
Common strengths of both plans:
Free HBO for life: Both plans give you HBO for life. That’s undoubtedly a boon for all fans of A+ TV shows from the likes of Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Wire and many others as HBO has one of the most loaded-out subscription services out there. Have in mind that the actual promotion will start within 2 monthly billing cycles. Of course, if you drop your Unlimited Choice or Plus plan, you automatically forfeit the HBO benefit.
Unlimited roaming in Mexico & Canada: Pretty self-explanatory, but with either Unlimited Plus or Choice you get unlimited roaming in both neighboring countries.
Unlimited texting from USA to 120+ countries: With either Unlimited Plus or Choice you can text, send pictures and video messages via MMS to more than 120 countries around the globe at no extra cost.
AT&T THANKS: AT&T’s benefit program allows you to get insider access to special events, various forms of entertainment like movies and music, as well as get expert help, and many others at no extra cost. The majority of these benefits can be explored and used from the dedicated AT&T THANKS app on the app stores.
Military discounts: If you’re qualified military personnel or a veteran you get 15% discount at every monthly bill.
Our verdict: If you want the absolute best unlimited plan on AT&T, you should certainly go for Unlimited Plus Enhanced. It has the most bells and whistles and you shouldn’t worry about throttling that much. Well, at least until you don’t go over 22GB of LTE data per line per month as you’re likely to experience temporary throttling at busier times. Additionally, the 15GB mobile hotspot allotments is well worth it, especially if you use your device to cast Internet in your immediate vicinity. Conversely, if you’re perfectly fine with a bit more throttling in busier time windows and don’t use your device as a mobile hotspot, you will also be fine with AT&T Unlimited Choice Enhanced.
Limited & Prepaid Data plans
If you’re looking for something else than an unlimited data plan, AT&T’s prepaid ones are here to help. But which one to choose – the eponymous AT&T Prepaid plans or the Mobile Share Flex ones? Let’s highlight all the features and intricate differences and help you make up your mind.
The good ol’ Prepaid plans are a perfect match for people that value flexibility over anything else. With no annual plan, credit check, or even an activation fee in sight, it’s as close as you can get to freedom when dealing with large corporations. You can have AT&T Prepaid in a variety of flavors, ranging from $30 to $85 per month, depending on your loadout and discounts. Here’s a rundown of the prices and features:
$85/mo (Unlimited Plus)
Discount after applying AutoPay
Speeds reduced to 128Kbps after high-speed data spent
Speeds reduced to 128Kbps after high-speed data spent
Reduced speeds during busy times
Reduced speeds during busy times after using >22GB/mo
Yes, up to 10GB, USA only, speed reduced to 128Kbps after spending data allotment
Up to 1080p FullHD
Up to 1080p FullHD
Up to 480p/1.5Mbps
Up to 1080p FullHD
Unlimited talk & text to Mexico & Canada
Use talk, text, data in Mexico & Canada
No matter which plan you choose, we highly recommend enrolling into the AutoPay program, which will automatically charge your eligible credit or debit card every billing period. With AutoPay, you eliminate the possibility of having your service terminated after not paying on time. That’s a great thing to have on its own, but the discount on the prepaid plans is another boon to consumers’ wallets.
You can save even more if you bundle multiple prepaid plans together. For a second and a third additional lines, you get $10 off on your total monthly bill, while for a fourth and fifth additional line you get $20 off. This means that you can save up to $110 per month if you combine five Prepaid Unlimited Plus plans, or $1,320 per annum. You can check out the interactive AT&T configurator right here.
Our verdict: From the get-go, we wouldn’t recommend the $65/mo plan as it’s pretty hampered when compared to the others. Sure, it comes with unlimited data in tow, but we don’t like the lack of mobile tethering functionality as well as its inability to stream 1080p video. Albeit pricier, the top unlimited data plan is definitely better value on all fronts. When it comes to the ‘cheaplings’, it all comes to whether you can live with as low as a gigabyte of fast-speed data per month and whether you travel to Mexico and Canada often – if no, you should probably go for the $40/mo plan, but if you are okay with less data and no free-of-charge roaming allotment.
Instagram plans to offer high-profile influencers special tools that will provide them with a deeper insight into various data regarding their followers. These tools will be delivered in the form of Creator Accounts, which will only be available to select Instagram users (i.e. influencers, celebs).
An Instagram official recently told The Hollywood Reporter that the company wishes to make sure that “Instagram is the best place, and easiest place, to build fan communities and also build creators. personal brands.”
These creator accounts are meant to function like business-focused profiles and will offer growth insights, including information about follows and unfollows. Influencers will also be able to see weekly and daily data about their followers count changes so that they can better understand what might have caused a decline in their fan base or a spike in new followers.
Also, direct messaging tools that will enable Instagram users to filter notes from brand partners and friends will be available as well. Furthermore, influencers will be allowed to choose how they want to be contacted via flexible labels.
According to Instagram. these new features are being tested with a small beta group at the moment, but they are expected to be rolled out to everyone sometime in 2019.