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CCI dismisses complaint alleging Gmail-Meet integration is anti-competitive

Gmail

The Competition Commission of India has dismissed a case which alleged that Google’s integration of its videoconferencing service Meet with the Gmail App amounted to anti-competitive behaviour.

The case was filed by Baglekar Akash Kumar, a student at Hyderabad’s Osmania University, against Google LLC and Google India alleging contravention of the Competition Act. Kumar said Google was dominant in the “internet-related services and products” and the Gmail app was dominant in the “email and direct messaging market”. The company’s integration of Meet with Gmail amounted to abuse of dominant position in one relevant market to enter another, which amounts to a violation under Section 4(2)(e) of the Competition Act, Kumar claimed.

However, the Commission ruled that users can choose between either of the apps with all functions, without having to use the other. Further, although the Google Meet tab has been integrated with the Gmail app, users are not coerced to use Meet exclusively, and are free to use any another videoconferencing app.

The Informant has not placed any substantive material on record in support of his contention that Google is a dominant player in the relevant market. 

…anyone with a Google Account (not necessarily a Gmail User) can create an online meeting using Google Meet. Further, for creating a Google account, the user need not be a user of Gmail. He/she can use email ID created on any other platform for creating a Google account. Thus, Google Meet is available as an independent app outside the Gmail ecosystem also. 

Google refuted allegations that it was dominant in the internet services market worldwide or the email and direct messaging market in India. It also said that adding the Meet function to Gmail is a product improvement, and other rivals such as Facebook and Microsoft offer similar functions. Further, Google said that even if it were dominant in the email and messaging market, introducing the Meet tab is not anti-competitive as users are not compelled to use Meet, can switch it off, and use other videoconferencing services.

The CCI disagreed with Kumar delineation of markets, stating that he had clubbed two distinct markets i.e. email services and direct messaging, into one. Email is used for formal communication and do not have network effects and Gmail users can email a user on another services. Users on direct messaging services such as WhatsApp can only messaged other WhatsApp users. In addition, they are primarily OTT messaging apps and have in-built multimedia features, the CCI pointed out. The Commission said that the relevant market thus is the “market for providing email services”.

Google had compared its Meet service to videoconferencing services offered by WhatsApp, Truecaller, Facebook messenger, Instagram, and Telegram. But the Commission said Meet is closed to Zoom, Teams, Webex and similar services. So the appropriate secondary relevant market is video-conferencing services, the Commission said.

Anybody can approach CCI with grievance around competition: CCI

Google had also claimed Kumar’s allegations were “unsubstantiated” and based “only on conjectures, hypothesis and apprehension”l. It pointed out an NCLAT warning against pursuing unsubstantiated claims by complainants with “oblique motives”. It also emphasized that the Informant must demonstrate the existence of a prima facie case warranting an investigation by the CCI.

The Commission disagreed with Google, stating that it performs inquisitorial and not adjudicatory functions. Any member of the public can approach the Commission regarding anti-competitive behaviour.

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