Russians Open Formal Antitrust Case Against Google Over Android
Yandex-filed complaint has triggered the inquiry by Russian regulator.
Reuters reported this morning that Russia’s competition regulator had formally opened an antitrust investigation into Google’s control over Android. Earlier in the week Yandex announced that it had filed a complaint with the regulator asserting Google was violating Russian competition rules by requiring its apps to be pre-installed on Android.
Yandex has a range of competing mobile apps and is accusing Google of abusing its market position vis-a-vis Android “default” apps. Similar “tying” complaints exist in Europe and the US.
Google maintains that Android is an open-source platform and mobile handset makers are free to use and modify it as they please — with a major caveat. If they want access to Google Play, they must pre-install Google apps in specific ways (presence and placement) on their devices.
Amazon of course “forked” Android but it created its own app store.
Google is under growing investor pressure to show more revenue from mobile search and mobile users generally. It will be interesting to see how the various jurisdictions (Europe, US and Russia) address the alleged tying issue. While this is only one of many factors, part of the international antitrust activity is being driven by anti-American sentiment, which sees US internet companies as instruments of US spying.
Tying complaints have surfaced in the context of litigation in the US and not formal regulatory inquiries, which have largely been concluded against the company. Roughly two years ago the FTC closed its antitrust investigation against Google.
Google will undoubtedly point to Amazon as an example of OEM independence with Android. There are others too.
Google is dealing with a few ambivalent partners (e.g., Samsung) and new competitors that have said or implied they want more control over Android. For example, startup Cyanogen’s CEO Kirt McMaster has been quoted saying, “We’re going to take Android away from Google.” And rising Chinese Android OEM Xiaomi threatens Google with its aggressive growth and competing services.
Google is trying to strike a balance by continuing to permit third party modifications and forking of Android, while trying to prevent fragmentation and getting as many OEMs as possible to embrace its Google Play/tier-one terms.