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Epic accuses Google of "bribe or block" dominance on Android | Epic vs Google

Epic Games and Google both laid out their opening arguments in a San Francisco court on Monday, marking the beginning of the long-awaited antitrust trial that started with the removal of Fortnite from Google Play in 2020.

The Verge reported that Epic was the first to make its opening statement with lead attorney Gary Bornstein first directing the jury’s attention to Google’s dominance on Android, accounting for over 90% of app installs in 2020.

Bornstein claimed Google used a “bribe or block” strategy “[pay] actual and potential competitors not to compete.”

This was a reference to the previously reported Project Hug, in which Google allegedly paid companies like Activision Blizzard and Riot Games to dissuade them from launching their own app stores on Android.

Bornstein also attempted to head off potential arguments from Google, such as that this antitrust lawsuit was all planned, admitting to Project Liberty: Epic’s ‘battle plan’ against Apple and Google that led up to the Fornite hotfix and subsequent lawsuits. The Epic attorney argued: “You will not see any evidence that anyone was harmed by this or even could have been harmed by this.”

He also noted that Google will argue it allows sideloading of apps, unlike Apple, so there are alternatives to Google Play and other Android app stores, but maintained that Google makes this process too difficult for end users.

Bornstein demonstrated this by showing the 16 steps it takes to sideload Fortnite onto an Android device, which prompts various warnings about unknown software.

“Fortnite was the biggest game in the world, Google knew it was not an unknown app,” he said. “Google called it unknown so it could put up warnings just like those.”

Meanwhile, Google’s opening statement began with a focus on market definition and the emphasis that Google Play competes with iPhone rather than other Android app stores.

Google attorney Glen Pomerantz emphasised that there’s nothing stopping users from downloading apps via the Samsung Galaxy Store, for example, but noted that they choose to use Google Play instead.

He also responded to Epic’s complaints about the difficulty of sideloading Fortnite, emphasising that this is for security and argued that 16 steps to install a game from outside Google Play is a reasonable number.

“A billion people have done it after getting notified of the potential risks,” said Pomerantz. “That’s because Android users have a real choice.”

He added: “Security is really important to competition – we need to protect users because it’s a critical point of competition between Apple and Android.”

Pomerantz also addressed the Project Hug allegations, insisting that nothing is stopping Riot Games from opening a competing app store and denying that a secret deal with Samsung ever occurred.

As expected, Google also latched on to Project Liberty, sharing segments of internal emails from Epic employees with comments such as “How do we not look like the bad guys?”

Later in the day, Google defended its 30% share of all transactions, claiming this is “a market fee, not a monopoly fee.”

The antitrust trial centres around Epic’s claims that Google’s practices, such as the 30% fee and anti-steering policies that prevent developers from directing users to payment channels that avoid said fee, are anti-competitive.

The lawsuit was filed after Google pulled Fortnite from the Play store when Epic added a hotfix that enabled direct payments. Google is countersuing for breach of contract.

The trial is expected to continue for at least the next two weeks, with witnesses lined up including Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, and Google parent Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai. Google’s attorney also mentioned that the head of Apple’s App Store, presumably Phil Schiller, will also be brought to the stand. will continue to bring you the highlights and biggest revelations from this case, which you can follow via the ‘Epic vs Google‘ tag below.

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