Google Hit With Formal EU Antitrust Charges Over Android

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The European Commission has formally filed charges against Google for anti-competitive behavior related to its Android operating system.

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager on Wednesday issued a Statement of Objections—what the Commission called its "preliminary view." The move follows a year-long investigation into the Web giant for allegedly breaching EU competition law.

"We found that Google pursues an overall strategy on mobile devices to protect and expand its dominant position in Internet search," Vestager said in a statement. "It does so by imposing unjustified restrictions and conditions on manufacturers of devices running its Android mobile operating system as well as on mobile network operators."

At issue is Google's policy of requiring phone makers releasing Android devices to either bundle all or none of Google's apps (Chrome Browser, Google Play, YouTube, etc.). Google would prefer that its Android partners pre-load Google apps on their devices, of course, but they are not required to do so. If they don't, opting for the customizable Android Open Source Platform (AOSP), they can't mix and match pre-loaded apps (Search app from Google, app store from Amazon, for example). It's an all or nothing deal.

This practice has reportedly been a point of contention between Google and Samsung, one of the biggest Android device manufacturers.

"The impact of Google's practices is highly relevant for today's users, as over half of Internet traffic takes place on mobile devices—and this share is growing," Vestager said.

Google today touted the "careful way" it designed Android "in a way that's good for competition and for consumers."

"Anyone can use Android without Google," Kent Walker, Google's general counsel wrote in a blog post, which argued that rival Amazon does the same thing.

Russia last fall found Google guilty of abusing its dominant market position via app-bundling. In the US, a California judge dismissed a similar case in February.

The EU is also probing Google's favorable treatment of its comparison shopping services, as well as its desktop search practices.

"The effects of Google's strategy are not limited to Internet search," Vestager said, suggesting it stifles competition and restrictions innovation "in the wider mobile space."

Google is getting a reprieve, at least, from its neighbors to the north: Canada's Competition Bureau is dropping an antitrust probe into Google, since the company reportedly made changes to remedy earlier concerns, according to Reuters. In late 2013, the bureau claimed Google unfairly gave preference to its own services over rivals for nearly a decade. Google, however, agreed not to reintroduce anticompetitive clauses in its contracts moving forward.

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