Google Challenged In Europe Over ‘Predatory’ Android Practices

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Competitors including Microsoft and Nokia file a complaint with the European Commission over Google’s moves in the mobile market

FairSearch, the coalition of Google competitors that previously launched an ongoing complaint with the European Commission over Google’s search practices, has broadened its allegations to cover Android, which the group claims is being used as a “Trojan horse” to promote Google’s mobile properties.

FairSearch includes Expedia and Microsoft among its 17 members, and in September Nokia and Oracle joined the organisation’s ranks ahead of the group’s mobile complaint.

Seach dominance

The EC’s existing investigation, opened in November 2010, focuses on whether Google unfairly uses its search engine dominance to promote other Google services, such as Google Maps, by giving them prominent placement in search results.

Google CloudGoogle provided a settlement offer in January and since then the EC has been negotiating with the company on possible changes to its search engine, with competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia telling the New York Times he expects to receive proposals on the matter from Google this week.

The new complaint, which Almunia said the EC is treating as “a new step in the investigation”, focuses on Android, rather than search. The smartphone market – and Android’s dominant place within it – has developed rapidly in the past three years.

FairSearch claimed Google is using “deceptive conduct to lock out competition” in the mobile market, intending to “cement its control over consumer Internet data for online advertising as usage shifts to mobile”.

The group focused on Google’s practice of requiring handset makers to give prominent placement to Google applications such as YouTube on their Android devices. By distributing Android free of charge, whilst demanding special treatment for Google apps, is “predatory”, the group claimed.

Android shipped on 70 percent of handsets worldwide at the end of 2012, with Google holding 96 percent of the mobile advertising market, according to figures provided by FairSearch.

“Google is using its Android mobile operating system as a ‘Trojan horse’ to deceive partners, monopolise the mobile marketplace and control consumer data,” said Thomas Vinje, a Brussels counsel representing FairSearch, in a statement.

‘Abusive’ practices

If no action is taken Google will “repeat its desktop abuses” in the mobile market, Vinje stated.

Google, for its part, said in an emailed statement it continues “to work cooperatively with the European Commission”.

The US’ Federal Trade Commission ended its own 19-month investigation into Google’s search business in January, saying Google had not broken antitrust laws. However, the situation is more complicated in Europe, with the EC looking for Google to make “real” changes to its search results, according to Almunia, who noted Google has a 90 percent search market share in Europe, compared to 70 percent in the US.

He told the New York Times that Google must offer a solution in which Google’s search results clearly distinguish Google-branded properties from non-Google websites. However, Almunia said Google will not be required to make changes to the algorithm that governs how results are ranked.

In the matter of snippets of content used in search results, websites must be given the choice of whether they may allow Google to use these, but “this decision cannot have as a consequence the punishment of those who will not allow the use of the content in terms of search results,” Almunia said.

He said Google’s competitors will be given a chance to comment on any proposed changes.

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