EU Slaps Google With Android Antitrust Charges

Google's requirements for Android manufacturing partners violate competition rules, the European Commission charges.
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The European Commission on Wednesday said Google's Android business practices violate European antitrust rules, setting the stage for a protracted legal conflict.

"We found that Google pursues an overall strategy on mobile devices to protect and expand its dominant position in Internet search," said EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager in a statement. "It does so by imposing unjustified restrictions and conditions on manufacturers of devices running its Android mobile operating system as well as on mobile network operators."

Vestager contends Google's actions are particularly significant because more than half of Internet traffic involves mobile devices, because about 80% of the mobile devices in Europe and elsewhere run Android, and because Google's search market share is over 90% in most member states.

The issuance of the Commission's formal Statement of Objections caps an investigation that began a year ago and adds to the company's regulatory woes. Last year, the EU filed formal charges against Google for allegedly abusing its search dominance by promoting its own shopping services to the detriment of competitors.

Google is presently fighting those charges, but competitors are fueling the conflict. On Monday, News Corp filed a complaint with the European Commision charging Google with scraping content from publishers and using it in search links in a way that may limit traffic to the source website.

The European Commission has three main objections to the way Google oversees Android.

First, Google requires handset makers who choose to pre-install Google Play to also pre-install Google Search as the default search provider and Google Chrome as the default browser.

Second, Google disallows manufacturers who pre-install Google apps on one device from using modified versions of Android on any device.

Third, Google provides financial incentives for manufacturers and mobile network operators to pre-install Google Search as the exclusive search provider.

Kent Walker, SVP and general counsel for Google, argues that Google's partner agreements are voluntary and that companies are free to use other versions of Android, like Amazon Fire OS.

"Manufacturers who want to participate in the Android ecosystem commit to test and certify that their devices will support Android apps," Walker said in a blog post. "Without this system, apps wouldn't work from one Android device to the next. Imagine how frustrating it would be if an app you downloaded on one Android phone didn't also work on your replacement Android phone from the same manufacturer."

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Daniel Castro, VP of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a technology think tank to which Google has contributed, criticized the European Commission's findings in an emailed statement. "Operating systems like Android benefit from economies of scale and network effects that naturally limit the number of competitors in the market, and this often produces greater value for consumers in the form of better features, lower costs, and increased interoperability," he said, chiding the Commission for its failure to describe any actual harm to consumers.

Castro also charged the Commission with holding open platforms like Android to a higher standard than closed platforms.

Thomas Vinje, legal counsel and spokesman for FairSearch, a group representing a number of Google's competitors, hailed the European Commission's decision to bring charges as "a crucial step to end abusive business practices surrounding the Android mobile platform."

Google has 12 weeks to respond to the charges, but the dispute is likely to continue for months, if not years.