Google is facing an antitrust probe in Europe regarding its Android licensing practices, according to a report from The Financial Times, which has seen documents related to the probe.
The investigation, by the antitrust watchdog in Brussels, is in a “preliminary” stage, and is looking into allegations from companies including Microsoft and Nokia that it has supported Android “by means of cut-price licensing and exclusivity deals,” the report says. Daniel Thomas and Alex Barker write:
These allegations include the licensing of Android software “below cost”, according to the documents, and “potential requests by Google to cancel and/or delay the launch of smartphone devices” based on competing operating systems or shipped with rival mobile services.
The commission will also consider whether Google imposed exclusivity agreements with mobile device makers regarding the pre-installation and placement of Google’s various mobile services that are typically supplied with Android devices, such as YouTube.
The commission is reportedly sending around an 82-question, 23-page questionnaire to device makers and mobile operators to help it along with its investigation.
Back in April, FairSearch.org, the organization made up of Google competitors mostly in (but not limited to) the the travel industry, filed a complaint with the EU in relation to Google’s Android business practices. They deemed these “a deceptive way to build advantages for key Google apps in 70 percent of the smartphones shipped today”.
“Google is using its Android mobile operating system as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to deceive partners, monopolize the mobile marketplace, and control consumer data,” said Thomas Vinje, Brussels-based counsel to the FairSearch coalition, at the time. “We are asking the Commission to move quickly and decisively to protect competition and innovation in this critical market. Failure to act will only embolden Google to repeat its desktop abuses of dominance as consumers increasingly turn to a mobile platform dominated by Google’s Android operating system.”
“Google achieved its dominance in the smartphone operating system market by giving Android to device-makers for ‘free,’” the organization said. “But in reality, Android phone makers who want to include must-have Google apps such as Maps, YouTube or Play are required to pre-load an entire suite of Google mobile services and to give them prominent default placement on the phone, the complaint says. This disadvantages other providers, and puts Google’s Android in control of consumer data on a majority of smartphones shipped today.”
FairSearch went on to call Google’s distribution of Android “predatory”.
In May, EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia said Google’s recent proposals to ease concerns regarding its search business did not go far enough, and that the commission would seek further concessions.
In the U.S. the Federal Trade Commission, which recently settled a similar probe with the company, is said to be looking into Google’s display advertising business.