The Italian Competition Authority (ICA) handed Google an approximately $120 million (€100 million) fine today for not letting a third-party charging app on Android Auto in 2019 (via 9to5Google). The case started with a probe into the search giant’s automotive software business, which until October 2020 had limitations around what kinds of apps were allowed to be developed and released for use while driving.
Enel Group, an Italian energy company, originally complained in 2019 that Google wouldn’t allow its Enel X Recharge app on Android Auto. The app can help find charging locations for electric cars, a feature Google first added to Google Maps in 2018. Today’s ICA fine is focused on Enel X JuicePass, which is the renamed version of the same app with the same EV features. Along with the fine, the ICA is ordering Google to open up Android Auto to more developers (something the company has already done) and let Enel Group onto the platform:
The Authority has therefore ordered Google to make available to Enel X Italia, as well as to other app developers, tools for the programming of apps that are interoperable with Android Auto and will monitor the effective and correct implementation of the imposed obligations through an independent expert to whom Google must provide all cooperation and information requested.
Before changing what apps it allows, Google required Android Auto apps to include some kind of messaging or media playback option, and limited navigation to Waze and Google Maps. Since the company changed course, similar charging apps to JuicePass, like ChargePoint, have launched on the platform, seemingly without any issues. Since the ICA began its investigation before Google eased up its restrictions, there’s a possibility Enel’s complaints helped motivate the change in the first place.
For its part, Google says it disagrees with the ICA’s decision and provided this statement in response:
The number one priority for Android Auto is to ensure apps can be used safely while driving. That’s why we have strict guidelines on the types of apps which are currently supported and these are based on driver-distraction tests and regulatory and industry standards. Thousands of applications are already compatible with Android Auto, and our goal is to allow even more developers to make their apps available over time.
The company also says that Enel is able to integrate its app into Android Auto using one of the navigation or booking templates it already provides.
As Android Auto becomes more common and Google develops direct relationships with European automakers like Volvo for Android Automotive, the concern that the company wields too much control over its platform isn’t ridiculous.