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Microsoft and others file EU antitrust complaint over Android app bundling

Microsoft and others file EU antitrust complaint over Android app bundling

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A group of companies including Microsoft, Nokia, and Oracle has filed a new antitrust complaint in the EU, alleging that Google’s Android mobile OS gives an unfair advantage to the company’s mobile applications. The group, called Fairsearch Europe, states in a press release that while the core Android OS is free, OEMs that want to license Google's mobile apps like Maps, YouTube, or the Play store, need to take the whole Google Apps suite and give it "prominent default placement on the phone." The group adds that Google’s "predatory" practice of offering Android "below-cost" also makes it difficult for competing software makers to recoup their investments. The New York Times points out that regulators will need to respond to the formal complaint.

A "Trojan Horse"

The group’s lead counsel, Thomas Vinje, referred to the Android OS as a "Trojan Horse" aimed at deceiving partners, monopolizing the mobile market, and controlling consumer data. Fairsearch points to Google’s 96 percent share of the mobile search market and overall 70 percent share of phone shipments as evidence of the company's monopoly power.

Almunia called Fairsearch’s complaint "a new step in the investigation"

This isn’t the first time that Fairsearch has gone after Google — it is also (unsurprisingly) a vocal critic of the company’s search practices, which it say give its shopping and travel businesses unfair advantages in the market. Google is currently still under investigation in the EU for these reasons, among others, and a negotiated settlement, expected as early as January, has yet to materialize. The company made it out of a similar investigation in the US with a settlement that many criticized as toothless, but EU competition policy chief Joaquín Almunia has been adamant that the FTC’s decision will have no bearing on the EU case, and that Google will be forced to change how it presents search results or face antitrust charges for "diverting traffic." According to The New York Times, Almunia called Fairsearch’s complaint "a new step in the investigation."

It may very well be the case that regulators will require Google's to change how it bundles its apps, but the irony of a group lead by Microsoft being so critical of the practice is particularly rich given that company’s long history on the receiving end of EU antitrust investigations. Microsoft was fined €497 million in 2004 (about $600 million at the time) for abusing its "near monopoly" by bundling its Windows Media Player with the operating system, which ballooned to €899 million (later reduced to €860 million) after Microsoft failed to pay the first fine. That’s not to mention the extra €561 million (around $732 million) that Microsoft is on the hook for after failing to bundle competing web browsers with Windows 7 Service Pack 1. Google could not comment on the specifics of the case, but a spokesperson tells The Verge that the company "continues to work cooperatively with the European Comission."