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.