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EU Readying New Android Antitrust Complaint Against Google
According to a Reuters article, which is consistent with earlier news reports, European competition authorities are laying the foundation for a new antitrust case against Google focusing on Android. It appears partly designed to appease European critics who believe that the proposed “rival links” PC search settlement lets Google off too easily.
That settlement hasn’t been formally approved but there’s an expectation that it will be. Many European officials aren’t happy about that. To mollify discontent, outgoing European Commission antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia has reportedly promised a string of antitrust investigations against Google into the foreseeable future.
Android’s market share is nearly 80 percent across major Western European markets. According to the Reuters piece the forthcoming case will focus on the issue of tying Google apps and services to use of the Android OS:
In one questionnaire seen by Reuters, respondents were asked whether there was a requirement set by Google, written or unwritten, that they not pre-install apps, products or services on mobile devices that compete with Google software like its search engine, app store and maps.
Companies must provide emails, faxes, letters, notes from phone calls and meetings, and presentations stretching as far back as 2007 related to such deals with Google, suggesting the European Commission wants to know if Google’s behavior has been long-term. Respondents have been given until early September to reply to more than 40 questions.
A civil case filed earlier this year in Federal Court in California focuses on the same issue and claims that secret tying agreements effectively block handset makers from installing Bing, Yahoo or another search engine as the default on Android devices.
Google consistently takes the position that Android is an open-source platform and can be used by anyone (see, e.g., Amazon’s “forking” of Android). However there are tiers of OEMs within the broader Android ecosystem; and in order to gain early access the latest OS updates Google requires pre-installation of selected apps and services.
It has been alleged that Google has used this “early access” and other contractual provisions in its Android agreements as a stick in its negotiations with even powerful OEMs such as Samsung. However the US FTC apparently decided not to pursue any action against these allegedly restrictive Android contracts.
Back in Europe outgoing European Commissioner Almunia wants to gain closure of the PC search case before his October departure from office. It’s thus quite likely — I would guess better than a 50 percent probability — that he will formally announce an a new Android-focused antitrust case. Politically speaking this may be the only way he can finally enact the pending search settlement.
Even if he doesn’t bring a new case, his successor will probably be inclined to do so.
There’s a feeling among those in European governments that Google has abused its power in many ways, from its marketshare dominance to tax avoidance. This sentiment is partly fueling the misguided effort in many countries to impose a “link tax” on Google for the benefit of traditional news publishers.
Some sort of more punitive action against the company seems to me to be inevitable. The only question is what form it will take.