Yesterday, the Fairsearch.org coalition, now featuring Oracle and Nokia, filed a fresh antitrust complaint in Europe against Google. The complaint focuses on Android and calls the operating system a “‘Trojan Horse’ to deceive partners, monopolize the mobile marketplace and control consumer data.”
Fairsearch cites data showing that Android dominates the smartphone market in Europe to the tune of a roughly 70 percent market share. It also cites Google’s dominance of the mobile search market (96 percent share). However, StatCounter shows a smaller OS share for Android in Europe (46 percent vs. 39 percent for iOS).
The Fairsearch complaint alleges that Google requires OEMs using (official as opposed to “forked”) Android to include Google apps on handsets, giving the company an unfair advantage over competitors and helping promote Google advertising on mobile devices:
Google achieved its dominance in the smartphone operating system market by giving Android to device-makers for ‘free.’ 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.
Google’s predatory distribution of Android at below-cost makes it difficult for other providers of operating systems to recoup investments in competing with Google’s dominant mobile platform, the complaint says.
Reportedly, mobile/Android is already part of the settlement discussions between Google and European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia. However, it wasn’t a formal area of “concern” laid out by the Competition Commissioner a year ago as the basis of settlement negotiations. Google has submitted a settlement proposal, though it’s not clear what concessions the company offered to make.
The Fairsearch complaint aims to call attention to Android and put more public pressure on Europe to take a hard line with Google. While The EU settlement with Google may, in some respects, be tougher than the FTC’s, it’s unlikely to restrain Google in the ways that Fairsearch would like to see.
Android and Google’s control over the OS are more fertile ground for regulation and concessions. And, the case may, in some respects, be analogous to Microsoft’s bundling of its browser with Windows — like the bundling of key Google apps into Android. Indeed, Google Executive Chairman unwisely likened Google’s dominance of the mobile market to Microsoft’s dominance of the PC market in public comments last year.
Loosening Google’s control over Android and its app ecosystem is something that the EU probably can and potentially will do. It’s an easier and more targeted way to “get tough” on Google than trying to regulate the SERPs on the desktop.
Postscript: See our follow-up article, The HTC First: How Facebook’s New Phone Ruins FairSearch’s Competition Complaint Over Android