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In context: With so much news coverage of Epic Games’ battle with Apple, it’s easy to forget that Google is also involved in the legal spat. The search giant was so concerned about Fortnite initially skipping its app store in favor of Samsung’s Galaxy Store and Epic's website that it set up a task force to deal with the issue.
Bloomberg reports that details of Google’s task force were revealed in a legal filing, part of Google countersuing Epic over claims that the latter pushed an “unapproved” version of Fortnite on Android phones that placed users at risk.
Epic’s response includes details of the task force. According to internal documents, it was set up in 2018 and met daily to deal with Fortnite bypassing Google’s store. It’s claimed that part of the group’s work included focusing on a potential security issue for anyone sideloading Fortnite.
Google usually gives app makers 90 days to address any flaws before publicly disclosing them, but it waited just nine days before revealing this issue to “friendlies” in the media. According to the filing, Google did this to “deter developers from launching outside of Google Play and maintain Google’s monopoly over Android app distribution.”
While Google’s app security page explains it can disclose vulnerabilities sooner or later than 90 days in “extreme circumstances,” the filing states that even Google’s own software engineers felt the security warnings about Fortnite were excessive. The head of Android security wrote in an email that the message to users “really does seem inappropriately dire,” Epic said.
Google has defended its actions, of course. It says that the vulnerabilities that were present in Fortnite on Android could have compromised consumers’ data. “Safety and security are our top priorities, so of course we took steps to warn our users about this security flaw, in accordance with our App Security policy. We’ll continue to fight Epic’s claims in court,” said spokesperson Peter Schottenfels.
Fortnite eventually came to the Google Play Store in April 2020, 18 months after it first became available on Android. Epic pulled no punches in its explanation as to why it relented: “Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play Store,” the company said in a statement. “Because of this, we’ve launched Fortnite for Android on the Google Play Store.”