YouTube is within the technique of eradicating its apps from Roku and the combat continues till Congress

A remote control from Roku Inc. in an arranged photo in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, the United States, on Sunday, May 2, 2021.

Tiffany Hagler-Grear | Bloomberg | Getty Images

YouTube leaves Roku. And now the battle between the two companies has caught the attention of Congressmen trying to push their big tech antitrust legislation forward.

After a month-long dispute between Roku and YouTube parent company Google, Google announced on Thursday that it would no longer allow Roku customers to download the YouTube or YouTube TV apps on their devices from December 9th. (Roku customers who already have YouTube or YouTube an installed TV can still use these apps normally.) That means anyone who purchases a new Roku device after December 9th will not be able to install YouTube apps.

It’s the latest battle between a 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 was using its dominant market power to impose unfavorable conditions on a competitor.

Meanwhile, an email sent to Roku by a Google manager as the two sides were negotiating their agreement contradicts Google’s public statement that Roku did not seek special treatment before putting YouTube apps on Roku devices would be admitted.

Roku’s allegations have already caught the attention of two of the top Congressmen trying to contain Big Tech through antitrust laws. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., And Rep. David Cicilline, DR. I. sided with Roku Thursday.

The battle between the two companies centers on a 2019 agreement to allow YouTube TV on Roku. Roku said Google required Roku customers special access to search data in order to allow YouTube TV on Roku devices. Roku also said that Google asked for prioritized search results for YouTube videos in Roku’s search function.

Roku said it agreed to these terms, but also asked Google not to request additional data. Google wouldn’t commit to it, according to Roku, and now both sides are at a dead end. Unless the two companies come to an agreement before December 9, YouTube’s apps will be removed from Roku’s App Store.

Google called Roku’s allegations “unfounded” in a statement shortly after Roku posted a blog post on Thursday morning about the stalemate between the two companies.

“Roku has again chosen to make unproductive and unsubstantiated claims instead of trying to work constructively with us,” a Google spokesman said in a statement to CNBC.

In the meantime, there are new questions about Google’s previous statement, which denies having requested any special access to data or a change in search functions on Roku devices.

In April of this year, when the dispute between the two companies became public, Google said in a blog post: “To be clear, we have never, as they claim, made requests to access or intervene in user data go search results. This claim is unfounded and false. “

But according to a September 2019 email sent to Roku by a Google manager and viewed by CNBC, Google asked exactly that.

The Google manager’s email to Roku stated, “YouTube Position: A dedicated shelf for YT search results is a must.” A YouTube spokeswoman, Mariana De Felice, declined to comment on the email, but said partners like Roku are free to rate search results for YouTube “at will”.

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

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

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

“For too long, the major technology platforms have used their power to prefer their products and services to those of thousands of smaller online businesses,” Klobuchar said in a statement Thursday.

Cicilline called Google’s move a “shakedown” in a tweet on Thursday.

Both lawmakers have tabled a wide variety of bills that they say will create a fairer playing field in an industry dominated by only a handful of giants. Cicilline, chair of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, tabled a bipartisan legislative package in June. Klobuchar has sponsored her own big tech antitrust laws in the Senate, including one that would relax Google and Apple’s control over their app stores.

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

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

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