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European Commission launches antitrust investigation into Android

The European Commission has opened formal proceedings against Google to investigate potential anticompetitive agreements and abuse of its position as a market leader, with regards to its Android OS.

Published onApril 15, 2015

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Following three years of scrutiny, the European Commission is to formally investigate claims that Google is abusing its Android operating system to unfairly gain market share for its services and software.

The investigation will examine whether Google has unfairly hindered access to rival applications, excessively bundled its apps with other essential services or APIs, and if the company has illegally prevented manufacturers from running modified versions of the open-source Android operating system.

The investigation will examine whether Google has unfairly hindered access to rival applications

One of the key causes for the commission’s concern is Google’s controversial approach to controlling its operating system. By preventing forked versions of Android from running its software, Google locks them out of important services like the Play Store.

There are also an increasing number of pre-installed Google services that ship with new devices, which may unfairly disadvantage competing applications. Chrome, Hangouts, and Youtube are just a handful of the Google owned applications found pre-installed on smartphones these days, and the commission wants to know if manufacturers are being forced or incentivised to exclusively pre-install Google’s apps.

In its defence, Google has responded by suggesting that Android has helped offer users more choice than was available before. Google cites carrier and manufacturer choices to pre-install rival services, such as Facebook or Microsoft’s Office, and its anti-fragmentation agreement, which stipulates that apps work across a range of different Android devices, as part of its rebuttal.

Google says that Android has helped offer users more choice

Google is also keen to point out that it ships far fewer Google apps on Android phones than Apple does on iOS devices. However, the two have rather different business approaches.

Furthermore, the European Commission has formally accused Google of breaching antitrust laws. Specifically, by abusing its dominant position in the search engine space to promote its own services ahead of more relevant results from its rivals.

The EU regulator states that it is “concerned that users do not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to queries—to the detriment of consumers and rival comparison shopping services, as well as stifling innovation.” A final decision regarding the search case could be made before the end of the year. If supported, the commission may impose large fines and injunctions against Google that would affect its European business.

Again Google has already responded, showcasing a selection of the most popular shopping and travel sites in Europe, with Google’s own services ranking among the lowest. Google claims that innovation and competition has increased in these markets, not slowed, and believes that it has a very strong case against these charges.

As for the investigation into Android, Google will be discussing the commission’s concerns in the coming months and any decision could take a considerable length of time. Do you think that the European Commission is right to try and keep Google in check or might these claims unreasonably hamper Google’s ability to offer high-quality services in Europe?

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