Google to remove YouTube apps from Roku

YouTube is leaving Roku. And now the battle between the two companies has caught the attention of members of Congress who have tried to push Big Tech’s antitrust legislation.

After a months-long battle between Roku and YouTube parent company Google, Google announced Thursday that it will no longer allow Roku customers to download YouTube apps or YouTube TV on their devices starting December 9 (Roku customers who already have YouTube or YouTube TV installed will still be able to use These apps normally.) This means that anyone who buys a new Roku device after December 9th will not be able to install YouTube apps.

It’s the latest battle between the big tech giant and a smaller tech company trying to compete with each other. And like many other smaller tech companies, Roku claimed that Google is using its dominant market power to impose unfavorable terms on a competitor.

Meanwhile, an email from a Google executive sent to Roku while the two sides were negotiating their agreement goes against Google’s public statement that it did not ask Roku for special treatment before allowing YouTube apps on Roku devices.

Roku’s allegations have already caught the eye of two of the most important members of Congress trying to rein in big tech companies through antitrust legislation. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, and Representative David Cislin, D-Dr., sided with Rocco on Thursday.

The fight between the two companies revolves around the 2019 agreement to allow YouTube TV on Roku. Roku said Google has requested special access to search data from Roku customers as a condition of allowing YouTube TV on Roku devices. Roku also said that Google requested priority search results for YouTube videos in the Roku search feature.

Roku said it agreed to these terms, but also requested that Google not request any additional data. Google won’t stick to that, according to Roku, and both sides are now at an impasse. Unless the two companies reach an agreement before December 9, YouTube apps will disappear from the Roku App Store.

Google called Roku’s accusations “baseless” in a statement that came shortly after Roku posted a blog Thursday morning about the stalemate between the two companies.

“Roku has once again chosen to make unproductive and baseless claims rather than trying to work with us constructively,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC in a statement.

In the meantime, there are new questions about Google’s previous statement denying that it requested special access to data or change the way search works on Roku devices.

In April of this year, when the feud between the two companies spread to the public, Google said in a blog post: “To be clear, we have never, as they claimed, made any requests to access user data or interfere with search results. This claim is false and without foundation. for him “.

But according to a September 2019 email from a Google executive to Roku seen by CNBC, Google requested exactly that.

The email from the Google CEO to Roku reads: “YouTube: A dedicated shelf should be provided for YT search results.” YouTube spokeswoman Mariana De Felice declined to comment on the email, but said that partners like Roku are allowed to rank YouTube search results “as they like.”

Roku also has its own interest in keeping its customers’ search data out of Google’s hands.

The two companies compete not only with video streaming devices (Chromecast and Google’s Roku family of devices), but also in digital advertising. Roku needs search data from its software in order to better target video ads. And on a competitive front, it doesn’t make sense for Roku to share this data with Google, which, along with Facebook, dominates the overall market share of digital ad spending.

Roku’s allegations about Google’s request for preferential treatment became a major sticking point for Klobuchar and Cecilline on Thursday.

“For far too long, big tech platforms have leveraged their power to favor their products and services over those of thousands of small online businesses,” Klobuchar said in a statement Thursday.

Cecline called Google’s move a “ditch” in a tweet Thursday.

Both lawmakers have introduced a variety of bills that they say will create a fairer playing field in an industry dominated by a few giants. Ciceline, who chairs the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, introduced a bipartisan package of laws in June. Klobuchar has sponsored Big Tech’s antitrust bills in the Senate, including one that would loosen Google and Apple’s control of their app stores.

And now the battle between Roku and Google is fodder for both lawmakers to push their legislative agendas against big tech companies.

“Roku’s claim that Google requires the company to favor YouTube content over other service providers’ content in Roku search results highlights why we need new laws to prevent dominant digital platforms from abusing their power as gatekeepers,” Klobuchar said Thursday.

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