Location-Software Maker Sues Google, Saying It's Being Evil (& Microsoft-like)

By Andrew Moseman | September 17, 2010 1:42 pm

GoogleEinsteinSkyhook, the tiny Massachusetts company that created the location software in your iPhone, sued Google this week (pdf). David is charging Goliath with trying to keep its software out of Google’s Android mobile software platform in favor of Google’s own location service, and with encouraging Skyhook’s partners to break contracts.

In other words, Google is leveraging its OS market share to push its own affiliated products and snuff out competitors — kind of like Microsoft did with Internet Explorer on Windows 15 years ago. Yikes. [Wired.com]

Google says it hasn’t had the opportunity to review the legal action, so it has yet to comment.

Skyhook’s particular gripe is that Google is going back on its promise that Android, by being open-source, would be a free marketplace. From the company’s court filing:

When Google launched Android, its stated goal was to create an open platform that carriers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and developers can use to make their innovative ideas a reality and to ensure that “no industry player can restrict or control the innovations of any other.

However, they say that Google issued a “stop-ship” on Motorola phones that used Skyhook by claiming that the system wasn’t compatible with Android. Skyhook says this was an arbitrary move intended to harm a competitor, contrary to the “openness” of the system, and made possible by Google’s process for approving or rejecting software or devices for Android:

This entirely subjective review, conducted solely by Google employees with ultimate authority to interpret the scope and meaning of the CDD [Compliance Definition Document] as they see fit, effectively gives Google the ability to arbitrarily deem any software, feature or function “non-compatible” with the CDD.

Location software like Skyhook’s allows companies to advertise or sell you stuff based on where you are. In two years it will be lucrative to the tune of nearly $13 billion, according to some market estimates.

Many smartphones use the satellite-based Global Positioning System to provide users with driving directions or nearby points of interest, but GPS signals don’t always get through. Skyhook supplements GPS by finding locations based on the radio signals from millions of Wi-Fi Internet routers in homes and businesses. [Boston Globe]

The Internet giants want to grow their slice of that huge market, which is why Skyhook finds itself fighting to stay afloat. Even Apple, which reportedly has a rosier relationship with the smaller company and uses its system in the iPhone, is trying to develop its own system that’s just as good.

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Image: flickr / dannysullivan

  • http://clubneko.net nick

    This would be an actual story if Google had something like a controlling marketshare anywhere. This is currently a yawn. Microsoft owned 90+% of the OS market when it rogered people with Internet Explorer. Google has less than 20% of the smartphone OS market.

    “Google said blah blah blah in a press release” has nothing to do with the legal documents that Motorola signed governing Google’s acceptance to their modifications of the system software.

    Also, maybe it’s just me but I can’t imagine why you’d want GPS on indoors, let alone how a WiFi router, that barely knows what timezone it’s in let alone could possibly be more accurate than the last GPS signal I got walking into a house. And it’s a little big-brothery to think that you need to be GPS-accurate aware of your location in your home or office.

  • Jeremy

    Previously when I was in downtown Chicago, I used the skyhook location-software to detect where I was and needed to walk in the city on my iPod touch. It worked wonderfully. There are many more uses than inside your own home. Think outside the box Nick!

  • Brian Too

    Gartner is predicting that Android will tied for #1 mobile OS market share by 2014. Lots of people are sceptical of this forecast, but just imagine it comes to pass.

    Google would have a fast growing percentage of a fast growing market. There is big money in play here.


    The best strategy for Skyhook might be to make themselves an attractive buyout target for Google. However if Google’s not interested… well the lawyers always get richer.

  • ChH

    I pay attention to where I am, where I’m going, and use map software on my laptop – largely because I like the idea of being able to know how to get back home without any electronic navigational aid. I suppose that’s horribly old-fashioned.

    But, nick – it looks like the main point of this system is not so you know where you are indoors, but so that advertisers know where you are. Think Jon Anderton walking through the mall … only without the retina scanners.

  • Chicken Little

    They know when you park a couple streets away so they can gank your stereo.

  • Marcos El Malo

    What is most striking is how Google has positioned itself as the open alternative to Apple’s closed eco-system. Now we are finding that Google’s android platform (Android + Google’s apps + android marketplace) is no more open than Apple when push comes to shove. A least Apple has always been up front about the iOS platform. Google has released reams of marketing material that read as manifestoes of freedom that now seem like lies and propaganda.

    A quote from Vic Gundotra, a Google VP: “If you believe in openness, if you believe in choice, if you believe in innovation from everyone, then welcome to Android.”

    No one is saying that Google should run itself as a charity. We just wish Google would operate according to the ethical standards it claims to embrace.

  • http://wshun.blogspot.com/ wshun

    Could I simply download Skyhook from its own website (or other marketplace), and install it on my android phone?

  • http://www.mybestvibrator.com Eugenio Paolello

    If Google were to scan GMail for link exchange requests and then factor that into page rank, would that be good or evil?|eric_lee89|

  • http://www.yahoo.com Jan Ouellete

    Hey, I recently came to this website and I’ve visited it daily given that that as a way to remain updated. Maintain up the good work.


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