The European Commission is preparing an antitrust case against Google's Android platform, sources have told Reuters. Regulators have allegedly sent questionnaires to telecom companies and phone manufacturers, trying to get a sense of whether Google is strong-arming them into promoting its own services at the expense of competitors. One question is said to ask whether Google had ever said "that it was not in favor of your undertaking manufacturing, marketing, or launching a smart mobile device with your own or a third-party application or service pre-installed or set as default." Other questions asked for information about how revenue was shared with Google and whether other app stores had difficulty competing with Google Play, and companies were asked to provide any emails, presentation notes, and other records related to its Google dealings.
Android case is a 'political game,' says source
Google has been the subject of a long-running European antitrust suit over its search practices. In early 2014, it attempted to settle, offering to display search results from competitors alongside results that promoted its other services. The EU is reportedly still considering whether to accept the deal or broaden its terms before a final decision in September, Bloomberg reported last week. According to a Bloomberg source, regulators had not yet decided whether to bring an antitrust case over Android at that time. Now, a Reuters source calls the Android suit a "political game" meant to appease people who believe the European Commission has let Google off too lightly on monopolistic Search behavior. As of earlier this year, the compromise didn't require Google to admit that it had violated antitrust rules, and it's provoked complaint from companies like Microsoft, which called it a "non-starter." By going after a second service, European regulators can continue an attempt to rein in Google's power while settling a fight that's dragged on since 2010.
Google's Android platform is free for anyone to use, and it's often released with significant changes: Samsung and Amazon in particular are both known for departing heavily from the stock operating system. But a Reuters source says that if companies want timely updates, they must sign a contract agreeing to pre-install a minimum number of Google apps for things like mapping, email, calendars, music, and chat. In a complaint filed last year, Microsoft, Nokia, and others alleged something similar: if phone makers want to license popular apps like Maps, YouTube, or the nigh-ubiquitous Play Store, they said, they have to prominently feature the rest of Google's app selection as well.
It's not clear exactly what steps regulators might take if they decide Google is violating antitrust law. The investigation, if it happens, is expected to open when they make a call on the Search settlement. Google, however, is already dealing with the fallout of another legal fight that targets its privacy practices. After a court decided that people deserved the "right to be forgotten," it's begun removing search results at the behest of users who feel that "irrelevant and outdated" information is being unfairly linked to their name. This has, unsurprisingly, raised questions over censorship and whether Google is capable of distinguishing between reasonable requests and attempts to purge news that a politician or celebrity doesn't want online. Google is also only one of the American countries that have run afoul of stricter European policies about antitrust, privacy, and work practices: Microsoft, perhaps Google's biggest critic, was fined hundreds of millions of dollars for monopolistic practices in 2013.