Google appears to have misused its dominant position in India by making it harder for phone makers to choose alternative versions of Android, according to a 14-page order issued by the Competition Commission of India in April and accessed by Reuters last week. The CCI’s order found that Google’s restrictions on manufacturers seemed to amount to the imposition of “unfair conditions” under India’s competition law, the report said. The CCI began looking into the complaint against Google last year and decided to launch a full investigation in April, after finding that there was merit in accusations that Google abused its dominant position to hamper competition. The complaint is similar to the one Google faced in Europe and paid a $5 billion penalty for (see below). The CCI’s investigations arm should complete the wider probe in the case within 150 days, the Reuters report said, citing the order. Cases at the CCI have historically dragged on for years.

Last month, we reported that the CCI’s investigation wing had sought details of agreements between smartphone manufacturers and Google, including i) license fees or royalty payments made to Google for using the Android OS and Google mobile services on a yearly basis from April 2011 to March 2019, and ii) whether Google had imposed any restrictions on using its mobile apps and services since April 2011.

A Google spokesperson told MediaNama in a statement: “Android has enabled millions of Indians to connect to the internet by making mobile devices more affordable. We look forward to working with the Competition Commission of India to demonstrate how Android has led to more competition and innovation, not less.”

What else the CCI order contained

Here’s what was said in the 14-page order, per Reuters:

  • By making pre-installation of its proprietary apps conditional, the CCI said, Google “reduced the ability and incentive of device manufacturers to develop and sell devices operated on alternate versions of Android”, which “amounts to prima facie leveraging of Google’s dominance”.
  • Google argued that Android was an open source platform and pre-installation obligations were “limited in scope”.
  • The complainants alleged that Google engaged in abusive behaviour similar to the kind outlined in the European case. They said Google was engaged in anti-competitive practices “with the aim of cementing Google’s dominant position”.
  • The CCI said Google’s “impugned conduct may help perpetuate its dominance in online search markets while resulting in denial of market access for competing search apps”.
  • It also said the role of any Google executive in alleged abuse of the Android platform should also be examined.

Google’s previous anti-trust troubles in India and the EU

  • In February, CCI had fined Google Rs 135.86 crore (nearly $21 million) for “search bias” and abusing its dominant position in the market. The allegations largely revolved around the design of the Google search engine result page. It was also alleged that the company was leveraging its dominance in web search to strengthen its position in online syndicate search services, as competitors were denied access to the market.
  • In March, the European Commission fined Google €1.49 billion, or 1.29% of its 2018 turnover, for breaching EU antitrust rules. The commission said that Google abused its market dominance by placing restrictions on third-party websites which prevented Google’s rivals from placing ads on the websites. The restrictions related to Google’s advertising contracts with publishers, which favoured Google’s own ads over publishers’ (and thus competitors’) ads. The company’s practices amounted to an abuse of Google’s dominant position in the search ads intermediation market, the commission stated, since it prevented competition on merit. It said, “Market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules [but] dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets.”
  • Last July, the European Commission had imposed a $5 billion fine on Google for violating anti-trust laws, saying the company abused its position in three major ways: by compulsorily bundling Search and Chrome with its Play Store and operating system; blocking phone manufacturers from running forked versions of Android; and paying phone manufacturers (such as Apple) and service providers to “exclusively pre-install the Search app on their devices”.
  • In June 2017, the European Commission had fined Google €2.42 billion for abusing its dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service.