EU charges Google with antitrust violations, opens formal Android investigation

“The European Commission on Wednesday accused Google of antitrust violations, saying in a so-called statement of objections that the online giant has been using its position in Internet search to favor its own services,” Georg Szalai reports for The Hollywood Reporter. “The Commission also unveiled a probe into Google’s Android mobile software.”

“The decision comes after a nearly five-year investigation and more than two dozen antitrust complaints in Europe against the company and was announced by EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager in Brussels,” Szalai reports. “The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company could face fines in excess of $6 billion, according to the The Wall Street Journal. This makes it the largest antitrust case in Europe since regulators levied nearly $2 billion in fines against Microsoft over a decade. It could also affect Google’s business and force the company to give competitors more favorable placement in its search results. Critics have said that Google blocks competitors from online map, travel and shopping services.”

Szalai reports, “The Android investigation will focus on ‘whether Google has entered into anti-competitive agreements or abused a possible dominant position in the field of operating systems, applications and services for smart mobile devices,’ the Commission said.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Really, if they’re using Android, how “smart” can they be?

Lots of trouble to endure for a profitless operating system, for both Google and the iPhone knockoff assemblers, isn’t it?

MacDailyNews Note: The European Commission’s press release, verbatim:

Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to Google on comparison shopping service; opens separate formal investigation on Android

Brussels, 15 April 2015

The European Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to Google alleging the company has abused its dominant position in the markets for general internet search services in the European Economic Area (EEA) by systematically favouring its own comparison shopping product in its general search results pages. The Commission’s preliminary view is that such conduct infringes EU antitrust rules because it stifles competition and harms consumers. Sending a Statement of Objections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

The Commission has also formally opened a separate antitrust investigation into Google’s conduct as regards the mobile operating system Android. The investigation will focus on whether Google has entered into anti-competitive agreements or abused a possible dominant position in the field of operating systems, applications and services for smart mobile devices.

EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said: “The Commission’s objective is to apply EU antitrust rules to ensure that companies operating in Europe, wherever they may be based, do not artificially deny European consumers as wide a choice as possible or stifle innovation.”

“In the case of Google I am concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules. Google now has the opportunity to convince the Commission to the contrary. However, if the investigation confirmed our concerns, Google would have to face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe.”

“I have also launched a formal antitrust investigation of Google’s conduct concerning mobile operating systems, apps and services. Smartphones, tablets and similar devices play an increasing role in many people’s daily lives and I want to make sure the markets in this area can flourish without anticompetitive constraints imposed by any company.”

Comparison shopping
Comparison shopping products allow consumers to search for products on online shopping websites and compare prices between different vendors. The preliminary conclusion of the Commission’s investigation opened in November 2010 is that Google gives systematic favourable treatment to its comparison shopping product (currently called ‘Google Shopping’) in its general search results pages, e.g. by showing Google Shopping more prominently on the screen. It may therefore artificially divert traffic from rival comparison shopping services and hinder their ability to compete on the market. The Commission is concerned that users do not necessarily see the most relevant results in response to queries – this is to the detriment of consumers, and stifles innovation. The Commission’s preliminary view is that to remedy such conduct, Google should treat its own comparison shopping service and those of rivals in the same way. Google now has the opportunity to respond to the Commission’s allegations within ten weeks and to then seek a formal hearing. The Commission considers that overall, previous commitment proposals from Google were insufficient to address its competition concerns.
Further details of the Commission’s Statement of Objections on comparison shopping can be found here.

Android
Since 2005, Google has led development of the Android mobile operating system. Android is an open-source system, meaning that it can be freely used and developed by anyone. The majority of smartphone and tablet manufacturers use the Android operating system in combination with a range of Google’s proprietary applications and services. These manufacturers enter into agreements with Google to obtain the right to install Google’s applications on their Android devices. The Commission’s in-depth investigation will focus on whether Google has breached EU antitrust rules by hindering the development and market access of rival mobile operating systems, applications and services to the detriment of consumers and developers of innovative services and products.
Further details of the Commission’s formal investigation of Google in relation to the Android mobile operating system can be found [in the fact sheet below].

Background
The Commission continues its ongoing formal investigation under EU antitrust rules of other aspects of Google’s behaviour in the EEA, including the favourable treatment by Google in its general search results of other specialised search services, and concerns with regard to copying of rivals’ web content (known as ‘scraping’), advertising exclusivity and undue restrictions on advertisers.
IP/15/4780

Antitrust: Commission opens formal investigation against Google in relation to Android mobile operating system

Brussels, 15 April 2015

The European Commission has opened formal proceedings against Google to investigate in-depth if the company’s conduct in relation to its Android mobile operating system as well as applications and services for smartphones and tablets has breached EU antitrust rules. The Commission will assess if, by entering into anticompetitive agreements and/or by abusing a possible dominant position, Google has illegally hindered the development and market access of rival mobile operating systems, mobile communication applications and services in the European Economic Area (EEA). This investigation is distinct and separate from the Commission investigation into Google’s behaviour in internet search.

Since 2005, Google has led the development of the Android mobile operating system. In recent years, Android has become the leading operating system for smart mobile devices in the EEA, to the extent that today, the majority of smartphones in Europe are based on Android. Other mobile operating systems include Apple’s iOS (which is proprietary to Apple and runs only on iPhones and iPads) and Windows Phone (which is used on Microsoft’s and other manufacturers’ smartphones and tablets).
Android is an open-source mobile operating system, meaning that it can be freely used and developed by anyone. The majority of smartphone and tablet manufacturers, however, use the Android operating system in combination with a range of Google’s proprietary applications and services. In order to obtain the right to install these applications and services on their Android devices,manufacturers need to enter into certain agreements with Google.

The scope of the Commission’s formal investigation

Following the receipt of two complaints, as well as an initial investigation carried out by the Commission on its own initiative, the Commission has now opened a formal investigation to assess if certain conditions in Google’s agreements associated with the use of Android and Google’s proprietary applications and services breach EU antitrust rules.

More specifically, on the basis of the information currently available to the Commission, the investigation will at this stage focus on the following three allegations:

1. whether Google has illegally hindered the development and market access of rival mobile applications or services by requiring or incentivising smartphone and tablet manufacturers to exclusively pre-install Google’s own applications or services;

2. whether Google has prevented smartphone and tablet manufacturers who wish to install Google’s applications and services on some of their Android devices from developing and marketing modified and potentially competing versions of Android (so-called “Android forks”) on other devices, thereby illegally hindering the development and market access of rival mobile operating systems and mobile applications or services;

3. whether Google has illegally hindered the development and market access of rival applications and services by tying or bundling certain Google applications and services distributed on Android devices with other Google applications, services and/or application programming interfaces of Google.
The opening of formal proceedings does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

Procedural background

Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) prohibits anticompetitive agreements and decisions of associations of undertakings.

Article 102 TFEU prohibits the abuse of a dominant position, which may affect trade and prevent or restrict competition. The Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation No 1/2003) sets out how the Commission and the national competition authorities apply this provision.

Article 11(6) of the Antitrust Regulation provides that once the Commission has opened proceedings the national competition authorities can no longer apply the EU competition rules to the practices concerned. Moreover, Article 16(1) of the Antitrust Regulation provides that national courts must not take any decision, which would conflict with a decision contemplated by the Commission in the context of formally opened proceedings.

There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. The duration of an antitrust investigation depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the extent to which the undertaking concerned cooperates with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.

The Commission has informed Google and the national competition authorities that it has opened proceedings in this case.

Source: European Commission

15 Comments

  1. Took them 5 years to type a few searches into dubdubdubdotgooglevildotcom and see googles searches listed right there at the top of page one?

    Can’t wait another five years for them to do the same with android and hit them with an $18bil fine.

    1. The issue is with Google’s “forced-exclusivity” bundling services with the operating system that is used on a vast majority of devices being shipped. You can’t say the “Door is open” when it’s only the top half of a dutch door that is open. Google has been running around and proselytizing openness while at the same time keeping their own proprietary services and applications only for those that “fall in line” with Google’s demands of exclusivity for those services.

      Google is free to do whatever they want with Android on their own devices. The issue here is that they’re using their monopoly position to dictate terms to OEM’s much in the same way Microsoft did.

      “If you want to use our product, you gotta play by our rules!”

      If you change your terms in this manner after you become “big” then there’s a possible abuse of leveraging your marketshare to gain an advantage over competitors.

      1. And the problem is? This how it works. Leveraging your marketshare to gain advantage over competitors is a fundamental. It is not “evil”, it is capitalism. If you are the competitor and don’t like it, then figure out a way around it, over it, or (heaven forbid) provide a superior product. I am sick and tired of this nansy-pansy socialist bullshit. What a bunch of fucking crybabies. If I ever innovate something (and hopefully the socialists here in the U.S. are thankfully & finally displaced), then I would keep the tech here in the U.S. and tell Europe to go pound salt. If you don’t like Google’s search results, then by all means go pick another search engine…nobody is forcing you to use Google. I have no great love for Google or Microsoft, but the way (and reasons why) they have been taken to task by these folks is absurd. Atlas Shrugged. I’m going on strike… And if our U.S. Tech companies had an ounce of backbone (and long term vision) they would tell everybody to fuck off. Back in the day, Microsoft should have just stopped Windows, and said sorry…we’re done…find some other O.S. We won’t be extorted by goverment hacks. This kind of thing really pisses me off…

  2. The EU repeatedly states:
    Android is an open-source mobile operating system, meaning that it can be freely used and developed by anyone.

    I don’t know what to call Android, but it is NOT strictly ‘open-source’. Google has a 100% stranglehold on its development. After Google allow out a finished version of Android, at that point Android can then be altered by Google’s Android ‘partners’. At the point when Google Android is altered by a ‘partner’, it is not strictly Android any longer. Thus the fragmandroid problem whereby an update in Google Android cannot be translated into an After-Android update unless the ‘partner’ subsequently updates their revision.

    In all, the Android platform is very messy. I don’t know how it gets ways with the ‘open-source’ moniker.

  3. Doesn’t the EU know that Google offers 2 forms of Android. The open-source one & the one with Google Services added on top. So long as Google doesn’t force anyone to pick Google-Android then as far as I know they are not being anticompetitive.

    As for the Search business, it seems as though they are being punished for being Successful.

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