Google Defends Open App Policy for Android

Google sprung into action today to set the record straight in response to a news report suggesting that it had limited access to a popular Internet phone application at the request of T-Mobile, the lone U.S. carrier supporting handsets based on Google’s Android operating system.

A story in today’s USA Today suggested that Google stifled some of the functions of the Skype Android mobile app, called Skype Lite.

The app is available in T-Mobile’s Android Market, but it routes calls on the carrier network, rather than the Internet, which is how most VoIP technology works, a Skype spokesman explained.

The report claimed that Google tweaked the app, presumably so that T-Mobile would make more money if the users ate up minutes of their voice plans as opposed to data plans.

Andy Rubin, Google’s vice president of mobile platforms, tells it differently.

“As we told USA Today earlier in the week, Google did not reject an application from Skype or from any other company that provides VoIP services. To suggest otherwise is false,” Rubin wrote in a blog post. “At this point no software developer — including Skype — has implemented a complete VoIP application for Android.”

At issue was the analysis in the USA Today story that concluded:

“Google’s explanation would seem to suggest that T-Mobile requested the block on Skype, but the carrier says that’s not the case. ‘T-Mobile has not asked Google to block that service,’ says spokesman Joe Farren, referring to original Skype.”

Rubin said that “while individual operators can request that certain applications be filtered if they violate their terms of service,” the paper was “wrong” to draw the conclusion that Google acted at the behest of T-Mobile.

A spokesperson for the carrier said told that “today in the Android Market there are Skype and other VoIP-related applications available for download by T-Mobile customers with Android-based handsets,” but declined to address specific questions on the issue.

Today’s brouhaha over Skype mobile apps is not the first.

Earlier this year, Apple allowed Skype’s VoIP application into the iPhone App Store only after it agreed to limit its service to iPhone users on Wi-Fi connections — not when the device was connected via 3G. The move meant that on-the-go users would still have to pay AT&T for voice communications.

In another example of how competing interests of carriers and handset makers come into play with mobile apps, critics also cried foul over SlingPlayer Mobile, which allows users to stream a TV signal to an iPhone from a television connected to a SlingBox.

AT&T, citing its terms of service, said streaming TV video isn’t allowed because it strains the resources of the carrier’s network. The result was that, like the Skype app, SlingPlayer Mobile only operates on Wi-Fi.

Meanwhile, Apple, AT&T and Google are at the center of a regulatory review of yet another controversial decision to limit access to a mobile app.

In this case, Google was the developer that found itself on the wrong side of an app-store policy. Earlier this year, Apple blocked the call-routing app Google Voice from its iPhone App Store. That move raised concerns that the handset maker was acting in concert with AT&T, the iPhone’s exclusive U.S. carrier, to choke off access to an application that offered a competing service.

In regulatory filings with the Federal Communications Commission submitted today, Apple and AT&T both said that the decision to keep the Voice app off the iPhone was made solely by Apple. The handset maker left the door open to allowing the app onto its device if Google made some tweaks.

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