Smartphone wars: Google blocks Windows Phone from accessing Google Maps

Previously: Clash Of The Titans: The War Of The Ecosystems

Google did something evil.

It will get undone shortly, but the fact remains that Google directly attacked a group of consumers for no reason except to gain a competitive advantage by making their life more miserable.

Sometime last week, the Google Maps web site became inaccessible from Windows phones. If I browse to on my HTC 8X phone this morning, I am redirected to the main Google web page – no warning, no explanation.

It was the result of a deliberate change by Google specifically directed to Windows Phones. Google attempted to deny access to a web site for anyone using a device that Google disapproved of.

This is so obviously awful that it caused quite a fuss in the tech sphere on Saturday. Google offered up a half-hearted explanation, claiming that the version of Internet Explorer on Windows phones is not good enough to display the Google Maps mobile site. This was almost immediately shown to be untrue. Later in the day Google backtracked and said, well, aren’t we surprised, IE has been improved recently and so we’ll turn access back on Real Soon Now. There’s a problem with that explanation, too – IE on Windows Phone hasn’t changed in any way recently. Google is just making stuff up because it did something evil in a boneheaded way.

Here is a summary of the flurry of developments on Saturday and Sunday, with more technical details.

Offhand, I can’t think of any time that a web site has been deliberately cut off in the US for a particular group of people. China and other authoritarian countries do it routinely. If you try to go to Facebook in China, you’ll be redirected somewhere else. In the US we find that repellent and we condemn it as abusive.

Back in the 90s, Microsoft embedded Internet Explorer deep in the Windows operating system and developed controls and protocols to prevent competing browsers from displaying some web sites properly. The FTC antitrust investigation, which started out focused on that behavior, cost the company billions of dollars and nearly caused the company to be dissolved.

But here we are in 2013. The FTC was made toothless under the Bush administration and has not regained much ground in the last four years, so Google was given the mildest of slaps on the wrist by the FTC when it concluded its antitrust investigation last week into Google’s advertising and privacy abuses – which frankly deserved a far more aggressive response.

Google’s behavior towards competitors and towards consumers is increasingly heavy-handed, and its recent shots at Windows Phone are over the top. Google is preventing Microsoft from developing a YouTube app for Windows Phones, it intends to cut off Gmail users from any satisfying way of retrieving their mail on Windows Phones, and it made this clumsy, stupid attempt to cut off Windows Phone access to the Google Maps web site.

The bigger picture: at the moment Apple, Google and Microsoft seem intent on turning their walled gardens into fortresses, with cannons, firing at each other. The side effect is harm to consumers – you and me.

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