Google critics see its Firebase tools as another squeeze
Send a link to a friend
[March 19, 2020] By
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Some app
developers say Alphabet Inc's <GOOGL.O> Google is increasingly pressing
them to embed code in their own products that will deepen Google's
access to data on consumers, giving the company a leg up on rivals.
The previously unreported concerns about Firebase, a set of software
that Google makes available to apps, have become part of the broad
investigations launched last summer by state attorneys general and the
United States Department of Justice into whether Google has unlawfully
stifled competition in online advertising and other businesses, two
people with knowledge of the probes said this month.
The Texas attorney generalís office, which is leading the statesí
investigation, and the Justice Department did not respond to requests to
Google declined to comment beyond generally describing Firebase tools as
optional, usable in tandem with competing services and potential
revenue-boosters for apps. They spare app makers from coding basic
components or having to install alternatives that can be more complex.
Embedded inside apps such as Instacart and Expedia, Firebase software
plays a big role storing data, delivering notifications, logging
glitches and tracking clicks.
Firebase tools give Google, the internet's top ad seller, information on
what consumers are doing inside apps that it can exploit to target ads
to users, according to makers of Firebase alternatives.
"It's about data collection and ad serving," said Bob Lawson, founder
and director of mobile software company Kumulos. "The more Google knows
about users, the more helpful it can be" to advertisers.
Part of Firebase's appeal is that it is bundled with Google's Android
Studio, the most well-known program to code apps for Google's Android
operating system. But Google over the last two years has made it
difficult for apps to operate common functions without Firebase tools,
the sources said.
Kyle Carline, who oversees 50 apps for the Christian media company Salem
Web Network, said the increasing dependence on Google services makes him
"wary because Google is the powerhouse it is."
For instance, apps last year started needing Firebase Cloud Messaging to
send push notifications. Google has said the set-up prevents apps from
draining phone batteries. It told Reuters that apps have another option
in Pushy, but that tool's founder Elad Nava acknowledged that stringent
Google restrictions increasingly challenge Pushy's viability.
[to top of second column]
The logo of Google is seen in Davos, Switzerland Januar 20, 2020.
Picture taken January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo
"There's definitely a trend where Google is trying to get as many services into
Firebase as possible and restrict developers from using other services," Nava
Another Firebase tool is needed for apps to record data about their visitors in
Google's analytics service. Previously, the service accepted data from
alternative tools without the need for Google code, said Craig Rouse, mobile
strategy lead at mobile software company Tealium.
Most recently, Google has told apps that Firebase will significantly improve
results of their Google ad campaigns, ad buyers and app makers said. It is a
persuasive pitch because "Google will have a much more rich dataset" to inform
when to shows ads, said Kim Cooling, director of planning at ad agency M&C
Some Firebase competitors said they want Android Studio to promote them, too.
Google said developers are not required to use Android Studio.
Mark Piller, chief executive of rival mobile software vendor Backendless, said
Android developers "deserve to know that there is a choice."
Companies such as Backendless, though, have survived because apps historically
ditched Firebase tools once they could afford specialty services.
For instance, Firebase alternatives see their market share tick up slightly
among health and finance apps, which require unique features due to government
regulations, according to data from market tracker Appfigures.
Competitors point to Google pushing Firebase as an illustration of how big tech
companies use small-dollar acquisitions to quietly extend their dominance, a
practice the U.S. Federal Trade Commission began studying last month.
Google, which acquired Firebase in 2014, when it was three years old, has
expanded its toolkit through other small deals, including acquiring the services
Fabric and Crashlytics from Twitter Inc <TWTR.N> in 2017.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington;
Editing by Greg Mitchell and Edward Tobin)
[© 2020 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2020 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Thompson Reuters is solely responsible for this content.