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CCI seeks details of smartphone sales and internet usage for Google’s Android OS anti-trust probe

Competition Commission of India’s investigation wing has reportedly sought details from third parties, including research firms, on yearly smartphone sales and internet usage in India, reports the Economic Times. This move comes as a part of CCI’s probe into allegations of Google’s abuse of the market dominance of its Android OS in India. According to the report, CCI director-general has asked for statistics on India’s smartphone base, smartphone and tablet sales trends over the years, OS and apps on Android, besides data on internet, from research firms Counterpoint Research and International Data Corporation India (IDC). The notices were reportedly sent last month. While IDC India already sent in its responses, Counterpoint is in the process of sending its responses.

CCI’s probe into allegations against Google

The case was first highlighted after it was reported in February that CCI is looking into accusations that Google is abusing its Android mobile OS to block rivals. Most recently in July, it was reported that CCI could potentially fine Google of over Rs 136 crore if the watchdog finds it guilty of using its dominance to curtail market access for smaller players.

The investigation had resulted from a case filed by contract employees of the CCI, but it was reported that the investigation would be carried out by permanent employees of the CCI’s investigation team, which has around 30 members.

The CCI’s 14-page April order had found that Google’s restrictions on manufacturers seemed to amount to the imposition of “unfair conditions” under India’s competition law. It 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.

In June, we had also  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.

Google’s previous anti-trust cases

Till date. Google has been fined about $9 billion in anti-trust penalties. It has already been fined by the CCI once and by EU’s European Commission on three separate occasions:

  • 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.”
  • In July 2018, 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.

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