Google and Amazon are punishing their own customers in a bitter feud

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Amazon has just responded to Google’s decision to remove YouTube from all Fire TV products and the Echo Show. “Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website,” a spokesperson told The Verge by email. “We hope to resolve this with Google as soon as possible.” YouTube is being pulled from the Show effective immediately, and Fire TV owners will lose out on the popular, essential video streaming app on January 1st.

Google says it’s taking this extreme step because of Amazon’s recent delisting of new Nest products (like Nest Secure and the E Thermostat) and the company’s long-running refusal to sell Chromecast or support Google Cast in any capacity.

But regardless of the public stance each company takes over the next few days, it’s their mutual customers who are unfairly getting jerked around. YouTube is a cornerstone of any living room streaming device, and for Google to suddenly decide to strip it from millions of existing Fire TV owners — assuming no agreement is reached by January 1st — is shameful. YouTube is video on the internet. Period. It’s also home to beloved creators, and Google’s decision will soon rob them of viewers.

Kicking the Echo Show to the curb doesn’t impact nearly as many people, but it still stings since watching cooking videos from YouTube on the Alexa screen in your kitchen seemed like one of the perfect uses for the thing! But since Google is being pedantic and needlessly obsessive over every detail of how the app functions on Amazon’s device, that’s no longer possible. This is the second time YouTube has disappeared from the Show. Google said the first iteration had a “broken user experience,” which resulted in a revised version that was basically the full-blown desktop website. That’s not exactly ideal from a usability standpoint.

“Echo Show and Fire TV now display a standard web view of YouTube.com and point customers directly to YouTube’s existing website,” the Amazon spokesperson said. But sources familiar with Google’s position say the company takes issue with Amazon overlaying its own voice controls on top of YouTube. That violates section 4b of YouTube’s terms of service, which reads “you agree not to alter or modify any part of the service.”

Google is dealing Amazon’s devices real damage by withdrawing YouTube, and you could reasonably argue it has the upper hand here. There are people who simply won’t buy a Fire TV as a result of this move, and many existing owners will be displeased come January. Actually, they’re already rather upset since YouTube is displaying a cold, matter-of-fact warning about the cutoff starting today — and gently pushing users towards other devices. If you follow that link, there’s no explanation given as to why a device you paid money for will suddenly be made worse when the calendar hits 2018.

Amazon isn’t without fault either. The company dragged its feet for years in releasing a proper Prime Video app for Android in the Google Play Store. That only happened earlier this year. Previously, you had to install Amazon’s own, separate app store and only then could you install Prime Video. It was a sad, convoluted attempt at luring users to the Amazon Appstore. Even now, Prime Video still doesn’t support Chromecast, as Google points out.

And that’s directly tied to Chromecast’s absence on Amazon.com. Since there’s no easy way of watching Prime Video, Amazon won’t sell it. But it’s Amazon’s own fault that Prime Video doesn’t work with Chromecast. Amazon has the power to make it happen. What’s Google supposed to do in this scenario?

Even to casual observers, Amazon’s decision to remove popular, well-liked products from its store over this spat — or never sell them to begin with — is an ugly example of the company throwing its weight and power around. No one should be surprised that Google is crying foul. Is the company under any obligation to sell Google Home — the chief rival to its own Echo? Of course not. Them’s the breaks. But the Chromecast situation is troubling, and Amazon’s recent halting of sales for certain Nest hardware (with no real explanation) seems juvenile. Prime shipping is still a very powerful incentive, and Amazon is well aware of that.

What frustrates me most is that neither of these companies have bothered to apologize to customers over their squabbling. There’s no “we’re sorry to everyone affected.” On YouTube’s end, it’s just an abrupt, indifferent “Hey, you’re losing YouTube!” message to Fire TV owners. Google says “we hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.” Business terms take priority and customers come second. There’s no other way of looking at this or framing it. No one’s fighting for some greater good.

We’re witnessing the worst kind of petty bickering from two tech giants, and consumers are taking the brunt of this escalating feud. If that’s not embarassing enough, the companies are already being mocked by industry groups in favor of dismantling net neutrality. USTelecom wasted little time in piling on. “Broadband ISPs are committed to providing an open internet for their customers, including protections like no content blocking or throttling,” CEO Jonathan Spalter said. “Seems like some of the biggest internet companies can’t say the same. Ironic, isn’t it?” This stubborn conflict is turning into fodder for FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s supporters.

It should never have come to this. Amazon and Google, your options are to make this right, take your grievances to the FTC, or go to court. But don’t take it out on people who just want to enjoy their gadgets. Let people have their YouTube. 2017 has been hard enough to endure already.

Comments

How is this news now? Amazon has been avoiding Google’s services ever since the first Kindle Fire tablet launched.

but this is the first time google has retaliated?

No it’s not. They did this before with the Echo Show. Then Amazon just redirected to the web version. Google wanted them to use the proper API’s but never really threw a fit about them using the web version (that I saw).

that was also recent. i’m including that with this. Amazon has been doing it for YEARS.

Amazon not supporting Cast is a dumb reason for Google to use. Clearly Amazon wants you to buy a Fire TV of some kind to watch Prime Video on your TV.

Amazon not using Google services on their products is also fine. That’s not a good reason for Google to pull YouTube either.

Amazon pulling Google products from their store is also dumb. They shouldn’t use their retail presence as leverage to get Google to unlock YouTube.

Google trying to use YouTube as leverage to get carried in Amazon’s store is dumb.

This whole thing is really dumb.

If you are a cable TV customer you might experience a channel outage because the cable provider is negotiating a contract with the channel, and failed to reach a deal. This is awfully like that…

I’m just going to diversify my shopping habits away from Amazon.

I’m also diversifying my shopping habits away from Amazon, but not just because of this.

Over the last two years I have placed 165+ orders and received many products that have been returned and re-stocked poorly.

One was a $400 GPS, one was a $1600 camera. GPS purchased as new straight from Amazon had scratches on the screen, someone else’s memory card in it, and waypoints saved from Lake Michigan near Chicago.

The camera had fingerprints all over it, 200 actuations on the shutter, and had been totally customized for manual focus video use.

Amazon took care of both, but it took some pressure on the camera. They wanted to give me a $150 credit, but I didn’t trust why it had been returned. They said this happens all of the time, they just make sure the accessories are all there and re-stock it.

Gross. Even Best Buy doesn’t do this. Open box things should NOT be sold as new. Happened to my friend on a $3,500 (at the time) 5D Mark III as well. I am trusting Amazon less and less.

Sounds like a poor decision made by Amazon to sell a "used" product as "new". There are laws that should prevent this. Even more disappointing is that an Amazon represenative freely stated that this happens frequently. But do remember, Best Buy also has individual stores with (dare I use the word) "Trained" employees. This additional cost and overhead prevents used products from becoming Virgin-Again.

The act of selling a product as "New" which obviously has been used, is taking liberties with the definitions of words within the English language at best. At worse, it actually places at risk the trust a customer has with a seller— the foundation upon which the US Economic system is based. What Amazon did was illegal. What if you bought the item as a gift?

As for the spat described in the article, Google is intentionally withholding access to a video distribution platform it arguably has a monopoly on. Depricating software and preventing use of a service is something Google has done this before with a Panasonic TV and BluRay players I owned. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with my 3-year old BluRay player or TV; but Google restricted access.

As for Amazon, well, they’re in the right. Retailers ultimately have the ability to select which products they decide to sell. Google’s decision to restrict YouTube means to me that their ability to negotiate and establish a sales channel with third-party retailers is piss-poor. But when monopolies start abusing their power like this, customers loose.

Why support Airplay then?

good question, probably because they saw all the wealthy people in the USA, including their own board and their potential investors are pretty much locked into iOS products. They want those people to be happy for obvious reasons.

I guess so; wealthy people using iOS products doesn’t really help Amazon in any way though. Even the AirPlay experience wasn’t the greatest. I noticed that the picture quality wasn’t always the best as compared to using my Blu-Ray or PS3 app.

They also sell Roku.

To continue with your language, Amazon has been dumb against google for years, google has been dumb against amazon for months.

google has been dumb against amazon for months.

Sure. Let me jump on google maps on my fire tablet. Wait. Oh, I’ll just open gmail. Crap. Google has played dirty with competitors for years as well. Just like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. They all do it.

How is that dirty? To gain access to the Google stable, you have to play by their rules. That’s just life.

Those services aren’t free to operate for Google. Why should they allow others to mooch without providing anything back? It’s a business, not a charity.

who can possibly mooch off of Google?

They are the mooch.

Every user accessing through an Amazon device watches ads, Google does nothing and makes money.

Google does nothing and makes money.

Hot take! Get your hot take right here!

Maybe you misunderstood?

Amazon is sending eyeballs to YouTube. Google doesn’t need to do anything, those Amazon sent eyeballs still make Google money watching ads.

I am not referring to the cost of infrastructure and administration.

You’re right, I’m sure YouTube is simple and a breeze to keep going. /s

Do you not undesrtand what you read? Google doesn’t have to do anything for Youtube to function on the Echo Show. They’re not claiming that Youtube doesn’t have operating costs.

Do you not understand that YouTube is built in such a way that encourages engagement. This contributes to the returns that Google sees when people watch videos. Did you see what Amazon did? They embedded the desktop version of YouTube on a relatively small screen. They couldn’t even be bothered to use the mobile site. Intentional or not, they gave their own users the worst possible experience. That reflects badly on Google as well. Why would they put up with that?

That’s an irrelevant point and an argument that Google is not making.

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