Now that Google has decided to block access to YouTube on the Fire TV starting next year, there are many heated discussions about who’s to blame, Amazon or Google, for this mess. I’m not here to point fingers, but I do want to clear up something that many arguers are getting wrong. The YouTube app for Fire TV devices is made by Amazon, not Google. That is a very important distinction that highlights how far Google is going to combat Amazon and hurt consumers in the process.
The word “app” is in quotes in the title of this article because the YouTube app for Fire TV devices is not really an app in the traditional sense. It is essentially just a bookmark that loads the TV-friendly version of the YouTube website, found at youtube.com/tv. The “app” is made by Amazon to provide an easy way to view the YouTube website on Fire TV devices because Google refuses to make a YouTube app for any of Amazon’s hardware.
Google is obviously within their right to not make an app for the Fire TV or any other device they deem unworthy of their development resources. This is very common when it comes to streaming video services. Apple doesn’t make iTunes Video apps for Android, Netflix doesn’t make an app for Razer’s Forge TV Android TV box, Vudu doesn’t make an app for Fire TV devices, Google doesn’t make a Google Play Video app for Apple TV, and there are many other examples.
The very important difference with Google’s decision to hurt Fire TV users is that they are not simply deciding to ignore the Fire TV, like many other video services do with devices they don’t want to make apps for, but rather, they are actively going out of their way to block their otherwise public website. As far as YouTube is concerned, the Fire TV YouTube “app” is simply a browser loading a website.
Come January 1st, if Google blocks the Fire TV from accessing youtube.com, they will be deciding which web browsers can access their public website based on what manufacturer made the device running the web browser. If you think the end of net neutrality is bad, this behavior is worse. It’s no different from if Netflix decided all Macbooks could no longer access netflix.com because they didn’t like Apple, or if Disney decided that all Android phones could no longer access espn.com because Google pissed them off.
Google’s decision to block the Fire TV from accessing youtube.com is far worse than a company deciding to simply not develop an app for a platform, which is how so many people are seeing their decision. Let’s hope, for the sake of all consumers and the open web, that other companies do not follow in Google’s footsteps and block public websites based on the hardware being used to run a web browser.