EU files antitrust charge against Google, this time on Android

Google is the new Microsoft. At least as far as collecting antitrust lawsuits are concerned. In Europe, the tech giant is once again facing serious charges, this time surrounding the Android mobile operating system. According to the European Commission, Google is using unlawful monopolistic practices that unfairly puts its search and apps, and there its ads, as the dominant, if not only, choice on Android devices, to the detriment of competition and potentially stifling innovation. Naturally denies this and hints that the EC might not exactly understand how Android works.

This isn't Google's first tango with antitrust lawsuits centering on search and Android. In a lawsuit brought by rival Yandex in Russia, it was already ruled to be guilty of such. In fact, just last year Google was also charged by the EU for antitrust practices as well, but more on the comparison shopping results on its Search page. This time, the risks for Google are higher, given the large sum it might have to pay if it loses this case.

For the European Union, Google is basically strong-arming its way into manufacturer's devices, either by giving them monetary incentives for bundling and makings its Google Search and apps the default or by making it near impossible, or at least extremely disadvantageous, not to do so. There is a tinge of truth to these charges, as Google does have a certification process in place that sets the requirements that OEMs need to meet if they want to include, at least officially, things like Google Play Store, things that users have grown to expect on most Android smartphones. And by making its Search and apps the default, Google gets first dibs on ads and the revenue streaming from those, much to the chagrin of its competitors.

That said, the dreary picture that the EU's Statement of Objections paint might be a tad too extreme. There are quite a number of Android devices that do ship with Google's apps but don't always make them the default. On Samsung's devices, for example, its own Internet browser is the default, not Chrome. It has also started to ship Microsoft's mobile Office suite instead of Google's. Other OEMs also ship with a Google-less Android, like the few that go with custom ROMs like Cyanogen OS, or the Chinese OEMs that integrate their own app ecosystems. Google doesn't deny how valuable its own apps and services have become, to the point that it becomes almost essential to an Android experience. It also doesn't deny that it gets revenue from providing these to OEMs. It is, however, saying that OEMs are far from having no choice in the matter. It just so happens that it has become the status quo.

The case is reminiscent of one that Microsoft faced years ago over the bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows. It isn't yet clear if Google will be forced to do a similar unbundling if things reach the tipping point. But even worse for Google, it could face fines amounting to 10% of its revenue, almost $7 billion, should it be found guilty. The company is given weeks to formally respond to the charges.

SOURCE: European Commission, Google