Google Formed ‘Fortnite Task Force’ in Response to Epic’s Moves

(Bloomberg) — Google was so worried about Epic Games Inc. sidestepping its app store with Fortnite that it created a task force to confront the issue, according to a legal filing by the game developer.

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The task force was created after Epic began offering an Android version of the hugely popular game through Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy Store and directly through Epic’s website in 2018, giving users a way to bypass the Google Play store, according to the filing.

Epic’s efforts to avoid paying commissions on app stores from Google and Apple Inc. reached a flashpoint last year when both companies removed Fortnite and the game’s creator sued them. The legal showdown has help draw criticism and regulatory scrutiny to the app store policies of Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Apple, which are seen as a dominant force in mobile software.

In October, Google countersued, arguing that Epic pushed an “unapproved” version of Fortnite on Android phones that placed users at risk. Google has said that its app store isn’t a monopoly since the company allows other stores to run on Android devices, unlike Apple.

On Monday, Epic responded with a forceful rebuttal of Google’s claims. That filing included details about Google’s “Fortnite Task Force,” which was meant to help cope with the game bypassing its app store. The group met daily in 2018, according to Epic, which cited internal Google documents.

As part of its work, the task force latched onto a potential security problem for users installing Fortnite outside of Google’s app store, Epic said. Typically in such scenarios, Google gives the app maker 90 days to repair any flaws before publicizing them. But within nine days, Google took the information to “friendlies” in the media, according to the filing.

“Instead, disregarding the security of users, Google rushed to ‘get the word out,’” according to the filing. The idea was to “deter developers from launching outside of Google Play and maintain Google’s monopoly over Android app distribution.”

Google defended its actions in its own statement Monday. “Epic released Fortnite on Android with security vulnerabilities that could compromise consumers’ data,” spokesperson Peter Schottenfels said. “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.”

According to the filing, Google’s own software engineers felt its security warnings about the app installation were overblown. In an email, the head of Android security wrote that the message to users “really does seem inappropriately dire,” Epic said.

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