Exploiting and defending open digital platforms with boundary resources: Android's five platform forks

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Digital platforms can be opened in two ways to promote innovation and value generation. A platform owner can open access for third-party participants by establishing boundary resources, such as APIs and an app store, to allowcomplements to be developed and shared for the platform. Furthermore, to foster cooperation with the complementors, the platform owner can use an open-source license boundary resource to open and share the platform's core resources. However, openness that is too wide renders the platform and its shared resources vulnerable to strategic exploitation. To our knowledge, platform strategies that promote such negative outcomes have remained unexplored in past research. We identify and analyze a prominent form of strategic exploitation called platformforking in which a hostile firm, i.e., a forker, bypasses the host's controlling boundary resources and exploits the platform's shared resources, core and complements, to create a competing platform business. We investigate platform forking on Google's Android platform, a successful open digital platform, by analyzing the fate of five Android forks and related exploitative activities. We observe several strategies that illustrate alternative ways of bundling a platform fork from a set of host, forker, and other resources. We also scrutinize Google's responses, which modified Android's boundary resources to curb exploitation and retain control. In this paper, we make two contributions. First, we present a theorization of the competitive advantage of open digital platforms and specifically expose platform forking as an exploitative and competitive platform strategy. Second, we extend platform governance literature by showing how boundary resources, which are mainly viewed as cooperative governance mechanisms, are also used to combat platform forking and thus sustain a platform's competitive advantage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-497
Number of pages19
JournalInformation Systems Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Boundary resources
  • Competitive advantage
  • Digital platform
  • Exploitation
  • Open platform
  • Platform competition
  • Platform forking


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