Report: EU antitrust charges against Google’s Android could come this week
The central issue is whether Google has abused its position with contracts that require handset makers to pre-install proprietary Google apps.
For several months, the European Commission has been hinting through its actions and various leaks that it will file a second antitrust complaint against Google, over the Android operating system. The main issue is the company’s OEM-Android contracts, which contain app pre-install requirements as a condition of access to Google Play.
The Commission opened an investigation into Google’s practices and policies around Android almost exactly a year ago.
Previously, Bloomberg reported that a Statement of Objections (antitrust charges) was about to be filed. Now the Financial Times (FT) says that it could come as early as this week: “Brussels has stepped up its efforts to finalise antitrust charges related to the Android mobile operating system, advancing a case which is set to sharply escalate the stand-off between the EU and Google.”
Evidence of the potentially imminent nature of the charges is the fact that the Commission has “sent out requests for information from complainants with 24-hour deadlines,” according to the FT report. This suggests formal charges are now being finalized.
If a Statement of Objections is filed, it would mark the second active antitrust complaint against Google/Alphabet. Currently pending is the European Commission’s vertical (shopping) search case, which Google is aggressively contesting. The Commission has suggested more vertical search-related charges will follow (e.g., local).
Google has maintained that any antitrust charges against Android are unwarranted because the operating system is open-source. However, access to the all-important Google Play app store is contingent on agreeing to preload Google apps. A group of roughly 140 Android developers under the umbrella of the Application Developers Alliance appealed last year to the European Commission not to take any action that would impair Google’s control over Android and increase fragmentation of the OS.
Yandex successfully initiated an antitrust case against Google in Russia last year. Russian competition authorities ruled against Google and barred pre-installed apps on Android handsets in that country. Yandex later filed the same unfair competition complaint with the European Commission. Google has not yet complied with the Russian ruling.
The European Commission has wide discretion to impose fines and penalties equivalent to up to 10 percent of gross revenue. Alphabet’s 2015 revenue was nearly $75 billion.