The European Union today filed charges against Google, relating to the search giant's use of Android contracts and agreements to stop rival manufacturers from creating Android forks, and hindering them building applications and services that could topple Google's dominant position in the European mobile market.
This isn't totally new: the EU has been probing Google and the Android operating system for some time, trying to establish whether Google's dominant position at the pointy end of the market has caused it to breach the antitrust regulations, which are in place in order to halt any company from stopping other companies from competing with them. With these charges, the EU is alleging Google has done just that.
In specifics, the EU's commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, and the European Commission have officially said that Google breached the antritrust regulations by "requiring manufacturers to pre-install Google Search and Google's Chrome browser and requiring them to set Google Search as the default search service on their devices, as a condition to license certain Google proprietary apps;" and by "preventing manufacturers from selling smart mobile devices running on competing operating systems based on the Android open source code;" and finally by "giving financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-install Google Search on their devices."
In simple terms, this means that Google made the manufacturers of phones and tablets sign agreements so they could have vital apps, such as Chrome or Google Search, on their devices. It did this by creating a web of requirements in order to use and license these apps. If a manufacturer wanted Google Search, for instance, it would need to also have the Play Store installed in order for Search to be set as the default search engine on the device. As well as that, if the manufacturer wanted Chrome pre-installed, the Play Store was required, as per contracts signed. In doing so, Google made it almost impossible for rivals to create a rival search engine, app store, or browser for Android, such was the position of these three in the European market. If the manufacturer chose not to have these pre-installed, the device would likely not sell as it was missing key apps that other phones or tablets had and consumers wanted.
In a similar way, Google had manufacturers sign contracts saying that in order to license, pre-install, and use the aforementioned apps on their devices, an 'Anti-Fragmentation Agreement' had to be signed to stop the manufacturer from building a competing fork of Android. The European Commission says that this stunted innovation in the mobile market, as it stopped other, "potentially superior" Android-based operating systems from taking off, using an unnamed example of a competing Android fork which could have had the "potential of becoming a credible alternative to the Google Android operating system."
And finally, Google granted "significant financial incentives" to phone and tablet manufacturers, as well as mobile networks, to have them exclusively pre-install Google Search on devices. According to the European Commission, this had an adverse affect on the market, causing manufacturers and networks to pre-install Google Search over another competing search engine.
This is a separate case from the EU's other allegation against Google, which relates to how Google promotes its own services in its search results, and other concerns regarding anti-trust and competition.
As Vestager prefers to work with companies to change their behavior, rather than fining them billions of dollars, it's likely this won't be resolved for quite some time - possibly even after 2020. Google has released a response, titled "Android’s Model of Open Innovation," where the company says, "Our partner agreements have helped foster a remarkable -- and, importantly, sustainable -- ecosystem, based on open-source software and open innovation." It also says the partner agreements which the EU thinks constitute breaches of antitrust are "voluntary" and "anyone can use Android without Google," adding that "Amazon do just that."
A long, ongoing case has just taken a big step forward, but don't expect an agreement between Google and the EU any time soon.
- European Commission
Image credit: Julien Warnand / EPA