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Google under CCI lens for abuse of dominance in smart TV market: Report

Google is now facing an antitrust investigation in India for allegedly abusing its dominance in the smart TV market, reported Reuters. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has been looking into the company for allegedly hurting competitors by forcing smart TV manufacturers to use Google’s Android operating system, or even prohibit them from developing modified versions of Android.

The case against Google, which CCI has been looking into since June, was reportedly filed by lawyers Kshitiz Arya and Purushottam Anand. The complaint alleges that smart TV makers who wish to use Google’s operating system are forced to sign agreements that prohibit them from partnering with developers of modified versions of Android, unnamed sources told Reuters and Times of India. For instance, if you are a TV manufacturer and want to use Android for smart TVs, you will not be allowed to tie up with Amazon which develops the Android-based Fire TV operating system. CCI has directed Google to respond to the allegations, and the company has reportedly asked for more time.

What’s a smart TV? Smart TVs are internet-enabled TVs with readymade support for streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, internet TV and other functionalities. According to a report by Counterpoint Research, Android was the OS used in 30% of all smart TV sold in 2019. The report noted that Android also dominates the Indian smartphone market, which may influence consumer smart TV purchase decisions.

We reached out to Google, which declined to comment on the matter. A spokesperson for the company said they would reach out to us when they have something to say. CCI, too, refused to comment.

This is the fourth antitrust investigation that Google has faced in India. However this is the first time its role in the smart TV market has been questioned. The regulator had earlier fined Google ₹135.86 crore for abusing its dominance of Google Search. Google was found to be favouring its commercial flight unit by placing it at a prominent position on search results, resultantly denying competitors the same prominence.

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One of the more recent cases involves Google’s alleged promotion of its payments app Google Pay over competitors. The complaint was filed with CCI in February this year, which alleged that Google showcases the Google Pay app on its Play Store prominently, something that is denied to competitors. Another case involves an ongoing CCI probe into Google’s alleged abuse of its dominance in the smartphone market. Google had been accused of making it harder for phone makers to choose alternate versions of Android.

International antitrust probes into Google

The US-based tech giant has been facing trouble all over the globe.

  • China: Only days ago, China’s competition regulator was reported to be preparing to launch a probe into Google for leveraging its dominance in the smartphone market to stifle competition. The complaint had been filed by Huawei, whose Android license had been cancelled by Google. However, there are larger forces at play since Google’s cancellation had been the result of the US government deciding to put Huawei and its affiliates on its “Entity List”, which effectively prohibited the company from using American technology. This was because of the US government’s suspicions about Huawei’s ties with the Chinese military and intelligence apparatus. Nonetheless, Huawei complained to the Chinese regulator that Google’s actions caused it “extreme damage”, and that losing the Android license led to the loss of investor confidence and revenue.
  • United States of America: Google has been permanently on the United States’ crosshairs for anti-competitive activities. CEO Sundar Pichai had deposed in front of the House subcommittee on antitrust, where he was questioned about Google’s dominance in the online search and ad markets. The Department of Justice could soon sue Google for abusing this dominance. The subcommittee has also called for a radical overhaul of antitrust laws to limit the dominance of Big Tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.
  • European Union: The European Union has been proactively looking into Google’s actions for many years. The European Commission had fined Google 1.29% of its turnover in 2018 for violating the EU’s antitrust rules. It held that Google had abused its market dominance by placing restrictions on third-party websites, preventing rivals from placing ads on their websites.

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