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European Commission formally objects to Google’s Android dominance

Pre-installing Google Search and Play on devices is anti-competitive and limits consumer choice, claims EC

The European Commission (EC) has issued a statement of objection, claiming Google is in breach of EU antitrust rules after abusing its dominant position.

Preliminary findings found Google had imposed restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators as part of its mobile strategy to preserve and strengthen its dominance in general internet search.

The EC said pre-installing and setting Google as the default, or exclusive, search service on most Android devices sold in Europe, closed off ways for rival search engines to access the market, via competing mobile browsers and operating systems.

Google has made the licensing of the Play Store on Android devices conditional on Google Search. As a result, rival search engines are not able to become the default search service, the Commission said.

The Commission believes these business practices may lead to a further consolidation of the dominant position of Google Search in general internet search services.

These are voluntary agreements

“Our partner agreements are entirely voluntary,” said Google in a blog comment, responding to the EC, “and anyone can use Android without Google. Manufacturers who want to participate in the Android ecosystem commit to test and certify that their devices will support Android apps. Without this system, apps wouldn’t work from one Android device to the next.” 

Google describes Android as a customisable, easy-to-use operating system. From a developer perspective, it comprises a set of built-in services, such as Google Search and Play, as well as the recently introduced Google Pay service, for building Android smartphone apps.

Smartphones running Android can then use apps built on these services without experiencing compatibility issues.

Kent Walker, senior vice-president and general counsel, Google, said: “Android has helped foster a remarkable (and, importantly, sustainable) ecosystem, based on open-source software and open innovation. We look forward to working with the European Commission to demonstrate that Android is good for competition and good for consumers.” 

Around 80% of smart mobile devices globally run on Google’s Android operating system.

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Stifling competition, restricting innovation

The EC said it is also concerned that these practices affect the ability of alternative mobile browsers to compete with Google Chrome, and that they hinder the development of operating systems based on the Android open source code, as well as the opportunities they would offer for the development of new apps and services.

The EC said Google’s actions also harmed consumers by stifling competition and restricting innovation in the wider mobile space. As an example, it said Google's conduct has had a direct impact on consumers, as it has denied them access to innovative smart mobile devices based on alternative, potentially superior, versions of the Android operating system.

For example, the EC has found evidence that Google’s conduct prevented manufacturers from selling smart mobile devices based on a competing Android fork which had the potential of becoming a credible alternative to the Google Android operating system.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “A competitive mobile internet sector is increasingly important for consumers and businesses in Europe.”

“Based on our investigation thus far, we believe that Google‘s behaviour denies consumers a wider choice of mobile apps and services and stands in the way of innovation by other players, in breach of EU antitrust rules,” she added. 

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