It’s no secret that Google’s Android operating system has become incredibly popular in China over the last couple of years, just as it has in almost every other county, but this might not be the case in future if its government decides to intervene.
China’s authorities believe that the country is way too reliant on Android, and given that Google are, you know, the enemy and everything (American), it’s not a situation that they’re too pleased about.
This much has become clear following the publishing of a new whitepaper from China’s Academy of Telecommunications Research, a government think-tank which examined the current state of the country’s mobile internet. The authors made no bones about their displeasure that Chinese phone makers have become “seriously dependent” on Android in the last few years, noting that while the OS is generally considered to be an open-source platform, its core technology remains strictly under Google’s tight control.
The authors went on to lament “discrimination” on the part of Google when it comes to commercial agreements and sharing Android’s underlying codes.
From what we can gather, the report’s authors are eager to see China develop a serious rival operating system of its own, but given the dominance of Android and iOS, doing so would be “extremely difficult”, as they have already formed a “huge ecosystem” that gives them a massive advantage. While some local companies, such as Baidu, have pressed ahead with their own mobile operating systems, these are widely considered to be inferior products to Android’s offering. In addition, Chinese technology firms are overwhelmingly at the mercy of European and American companies that control the vast majority of the world’s technology patents, adds the paper.
Given the present state of affairs, it’s difficult to see what else China can do other than to implement stricter rules designed to make life difficult for Google. China’s famously paranoid leaders will surely be concerned about what they read in this report, and so Google has good reason to worry that it could lead to tighter regulations against Android.
Of course, China’s history of placing harsh restrictions on popular foreign companies is well documented - especially when these actions benefit domestic brands – and its relationship with Google has been, how shall we put it, “strained” over the years. Google is a long-term critic of China’s censorship policies, and has previously accused China of hacking into it’s Gmail service to spy on dissidents within the country, even threatening to leave the country at one point. More recently, Google has joined in the criticism of China’s alleged state-sponsored cyber attacks against US companies.
It remains to be seen exactly what steps China might take against Google, but any action would almost certainly be designed to make it easier for Chinese companies to compete. Google will be concerned because China has become a hugely important market in the past couple of years, but if the government steps in it would have very little room for maneuver. Let us not forget, this is China after all, and if it’s leaders decide that they really don’t want people using Android, its hard to see how Google could fight back.