Google in Trouble with Russia’s Antimonopoly Agency

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Russia’s antimonopoly agency has given Google until November 18 to make amendments to features of its Android platform that it deemed anticompetitive. If Google fails to make the demanded changes, it could face stiff penalties of up to 15% of its revenue gained from mobile applications in Russia.

Google’s policy that when a device maker chooses to install Android, it must also install the Google Play store app and several other Google applications. In addition, device manufacturers are restricted from installing apps and services that compete with Google’s core offerings.

The case against Google in Russia was launched by Yandex, a domestic search competitor that’s been losing market share as consumers pick up low-cost Android handsets pre-installed with Google search. If Google makes the changes laid out by the Federal Antimonopoly Service in Russia, it would allow third-party app developers like Yandex to get their own services installed on Android devices.

Google is already paring down the number of apps it bundles on new phones, which could help its case. Of course, Google is always going to want to include its best apps with Android to bring people deeper into its ecosystem of services, so whatever changes it makes are unlikely to fully wipe those apps away, not unless it really has to.

Russia…Really?!

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As a sixties baby growing up in London the Russians represented real and impending destruction…indeed when Regan assumed power we were reasonably sure it all be over and sooner rather than later. As the USSR collapsed Russia regressed to something close to its peasant roots until Czar Putin reestablished the monarchy.  Nowadays, Russia is a hot bed of tech innovation and in my industry, we spend inordinate amounts of time and effort fending off Russian hackers and bots. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many Russians and in the vast majority of cases they have been charming  educated folk…a little crazy in some cases but still.

All of this makes me wonder why on earth a good percentage of the Russian population is made up by apparently rabidly homophobic monsters.  Granted there are still an extraordinarily large number of states in the US were you can be fired for simply being gay…so we shouldn’t be too smug…but a good majority of Americans almost certainly wouldn’t join in beating a gay person to death on the street…or film it or post it online.  If that happened it’s likely that the police would get involved and (who knows) the perpetrators would likely be prosecuted.  Not so in Russia. There it’s common place for people to suffer outrageous assaults, even murder, simply for being gay. A climate of intolerance is encourage even codified by the government.

The most recent manifestation of this lunacy comes to us from St Petersburg where a monument to Steve Jobs (in the form of a giant cell phone) has supposedly been taken down by the company which erected it simply because Tim Cook recently came out as gay.

If this is true (and there may be some uncertainty around the timing) it’s as silly as it is sad. It may be especially ironic because Russians (who can afford them) simply love all things Apple.  A much more sincere idiotic reaction might be for Russians to stage iPad burnings where their beloved status symbols would be ritually incinerated…but that’s never going to happen.  Meantime I go out of my way not to buy anything made in Russia.  Granted that’s a reasonably futile gesture as most of what we buy from Russia is in the form of oil and raw materials and it’s hard to tell whether the gas you are putting in your tank is supporting oppression…but the thought is there.

A Chilling Effect

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We are getting used to thinking of the NSA as listening to our phone calls and reading our emails, and now apparently Google is checking stored attachments for kiddie porn.  However compared to the efforts of Russia and China our lords and masters are slipping up on the job.

Google told the Chinese where to put their strict regulations a few years back and Baidu has taken on the task of being a totalitarian friendly search engine and is making a killing doing that. China keeps a very firm handle on all kinds of political content and traditionally that control has extended to adult content in all of it’s myriad forms.Baidu has recently run foul of the censors by failing to prevent adult images from showing up in their results and being stored in their cloud storage product. Being the good dictator friendly search they are Baidu immediately got on the project deleting the content and shutting down user accounts.

The other dictator du jour Vladimir (The Terrible) Putin has been taking similar steps to keep their people in the dark. As of August 1st Search providers and other sensitive providers like bloggers and social media providers handling Russian traffic are being required to host their content on servers physically in Russia and store that data for six months. While it’s not quite yet as fierce a regimen as the Chinese have managed to establish this is a certainly scary step in the wrong direction.

The stories I heard trafficked by Russian “news” outlets about the recent Malaysia shootdown were both incredibly bizarre and widely circulated.  The old joke of “You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God the British Journalist. But seeing what the man will do unbribed there’s no occasion to…applies en masse to the entire Russian news media. That without the recent hosting restrictions.

The sad fact is that information is power and governments around the world of all political stripes have recognized that and are getting with the program of monitoring and restricting access to that information.

Oh Those Russians…

Segalovich_yandexIf you work in the online space, it’s hard to avoid the Russian influence… and it’s not typically good. Much of the fraud comes from our friends in Russia; indeed the word “hacker” has almost become synonymous with “Russian.”  Back in the late middle ages, when I worked for one of the major search engines which specialized in non US search traffic, we took a serious look at doing a Russian search. It was an extraordinarily complicated and challenging project that was further complicated by our inability to figure out who we should be selling the product to or how we’d get paid for our efforts. At the time, the leader in the still very early Russian market was Yandex… and it has pretty much stayed that way since then. Yandex has pulled off a feat that very few companies can boast… they kept Google to a minority market share. They remain clear leaders at 62%, with Google lagging a distant 37% behind Yandex.

The reason I bring this up is that the search world just marked the passing of one of its founders. Ilya Segalovich, CTO and one of the co-founders of Yandex, died in London last Thursday (or Friday…there was apparently some confusion) at just age 48 from meningitis; which was a complication from the stomach cancer he has been battling for some time. In Russia the average male life expectancy even now is only 64.3 years, so dead at 48 isn’t quite as shockingly young as it would be in the US, but it’s still somewhat shocking to see one of our own dead at such an early age.

Yandex (a name created by Ilya from “Yet Another Index” in a homage to Yahoo “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”) has become a Russian success story worth in the region of $10Bn today having raised over $1Bn a few years back through that rarest of things… a successful Russian IPO.  For them to conquer the linguistic craziness of Russian, a language so complicated that the past tense of “truck” is “Yellow” (or some such madness), and make it a commercial success with Google breathing down your neck is very impressive. How Yandex will fare without the technical genius of Segalovich is anybody’s guess. How would Google Fare without Brin? We know how Apple is doing without Jobs and it’s less than perfect, we will see how Yandex gets over this sad loss.

Online Cold War Heats Up and Boils Over

I reported a week or so back that there was an obscure and opaque conference happening in Dubai which might have significant impact on Internet access, search and beyond. As always the battle was between the totalitarian bad guys (Russia, China and the Islamic dictatorships etc) and the countries of the West. Although the ITC conference was originally designed to regulate traditional phone service it has evolved into a potentially global online regulatory organization. There was much discussion and behind the scenes machination with dueling memos and much fighting around language most of which didn’t even mention the Internet but could be used to regulate.  The short read is that the bad guys were looking for a global treaty which they could use and hide behind to allow them to regulate free speech under the disguise of regulating against spam, porn and other bad stuff.

In a move culled straight out of a Dr. No plot the axis of Internet Evil attempted to push through language giving states pretty much Carte Blanche to regulate the Internet and under keen encouragement of Google, Verizon and other good guy lobbyist at the event the US led a walkout of 54 “good guy’ states which effectively scuppered the entire thing….for now.

It’s unlikely that this issue will stay down. The Internet is a big scary thing to people who would rather that their people be kept quiet an ill informed. It has fueled or at least empowered revolution in a good number of despotic hell holes this year and will likely do so again in 2013. Although incredibly dull, this issue deserves more attention than it gets. If the next phase of the Arab Spring gets set back to winter because their government is able to shoot down Twitter the chattering hoards in the west will be horrified. We averted that option last week…for now.