Google Faces Italian Antitrust Probe Over Smart Devices

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Alleged smart device domination by Google is under investigation by Italy’s competition watchdog

Google is facing more antitrust issues in Europe after it was revealed that the Italian competition watchdog has opened an investigation.

It is probing Google’s alleged abuse of a dominant market position in the smart device sector.

Google of course owns units such as Nest, which until 2018 was kept as a separate division from Google before it was brought back inhouse.

Italian investigation

Nest had been acquired by Google back in 2014 for $3.2 billion, after it made its name with just two household devices, namely the Nest Thermostat and the Nest Protect smoke detector.

Since then the number of Nest devices has expanded, and now there are web-connected thermostats, a doorbell, smoke alarm and home security system, coupled with the Google Home smart speakers and Chromecast streaming devices for example.

The Italian Antitrust Authority said it hopes to conclude its investigation by 30 May 2020.

It began the investigation when its officials on Thursday carried out inspections with Alphabet Inc, Google LLC and Google Italy S.r.l, which it refers to collectively as ‘Google’.

The Italian investigation also noted that Google, via the Android operating system, holds a dominant position in the smart device operating systems market.

In its statement in Italian (the English version not available at the time of writing), the watchdog noted that Google had allegedly refused to integrate the app “Enel X Recharge”, developed by utility Enel, in its Android Auto app.

For those that don’t know, Android Auto is the Google answer to Apple Carplay.

It essentially allows Android users to easily and safely use some apps and phone features while they are driving.

The watchdog said that the exclusion of the Enel X Recharge app reduces the usability of the app, including the booking of recharge stations.

The Italian statement also reportedly added that it was allegedly in Google’s interest to defend and reinforce the business model of its Google Maps app.

This is because Google Maps offers other services besides navigation, including information on the location of charging stations for electric cars and how to reach them.

Antitrust probes

Google should not feel alone in being investigated, as the Italian Antitrust Authority also recently began a preliminary investigation into Amazon over alleged abuse of its dominant position in e-commerce and logistics services.

Google has also faced its fair share of other antitrust investigations in Europe.

In 2017 Google was fined 2.4bn euros (£2.01bn) after the Commission ruled that Google had thwarted rivals of shopping comparison websites.

Then in July 2018 the European Commission fined Google a record 4.3 billion euros (£3.83bn) for commercial practices related to its Android mobile operating system, the world’s highest ever antitrust penalty.

And then in March 2019 the European Union fined Google’s AdSense advertising service a stiff 1.49bn euros (£1.3bn).

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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