The Internet search giant Google recently made headlines, this time over another antitrust allegation levied by the European Commission.
In 2015, the European Commission issued a Statement of Objections to Google that alleged the company’s systematic favoring of its own comparison-shopping product within its general search results pages. The announcement also noted the Commission’s launch of a formal antitrust investigation into Google’s practices relating to mobile operating systems, apps and services. Last month, the Commission issued another Statement of Objections, this time informing Google and its parent company, Alphabet, of the group’s preliminary findings of its 2015 investigation.
As detailed in the release, the Commission’s concerns are broken down into three categories:
Licensing of Google’s proprietary apps: The Commission found that Google has ensured that Google Search and Google Chrome are pre-installed on the significant majority of devices sold in the European Economic Area. The Commission wants to ensure that manufacturers are free to choose which apps they pre-install on their devices.
Anti-fragmentation: An “Android fork” results when one creates a modified operating system using the Android open-source system. The Commission found that if a manufacturer wishes to pre-install Google proprietary apps, including Google Play Store and Google Search, on any of its devices, Google requires it to enter into an “Anti-Fragmentation Agreement” that commits it not to sell devices running on Android forks. In doing so, Google prevents competitors from introducing and pre-installing apps and services.
Exclusivity: Google offers financial incentives to smartphone and tablet manufacturers for exclusively pre-installing Google Search. The Commission doesn’t object to this but, rather, to the conditions associated with the incentive that it will not be paid out if any other search provider other than Google Search is pre-installed.
As noted by Bloomberg, the Android software has been on the European Commission’s radar since 2013, after an industry group, which included Microsoft Corp. and Nokia Oyj, filed an official complaint. The investigation covers Google’s anti-competitive practices on mobile devices since 2011.
What’s next? Google has 12 weeks from the April complaint filing to formally respond. The matter could be easily remedied, according to the Commission’s Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, if Google “stop[s] these practices.”