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Why Google isn’t happy with the US government’s newly proposed antitrust bills

The tech giant went on the offensive, claiming that the legislation could impose double standards and hamper device security.

With the US Senate Judiciary Committee set to debate and possibly pass legislation that could reportedly weaken Big Tech’s grasp on consumers, Google is not pleased. In a blogpost, the tech giant said that the proposed legislation can make online services less secure and ‘damage American competitiveness’.

Google’s outcry is over proposed bills such as ‘The American Innovation and Choice Online Act’ and the ‘Open App Markets Act’, according to The Verge. This would prevent Big Tech from favouring their services over others and aims to promote competition on app stores, it said.

The bills would benefit a handful of companies ‘who brought their pleas to Washington’, the post written by Google and Alphabet’s President for Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker read. Walker urged that US Congress should take more time to ‘consider the unintended consequences of these bills’.

In India, Google is already subject to multiple antitrust investigations by the Competition Commission of India concerning the products and services it offers including Play Store, Android TV, and Android OS.

Bill would harm US ‘technological leadership’: Google

These bills would impose one set of rules on American companies while giving a pass to foreign companies. And they would give the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies unprecedented power over the design of consumer products. — Kent Walker, Google and Alphabet’s President for Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer

Other arguments made by Google in the letter are —

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  • Americans might get worse, less relevant, and less helpful versions of products like Google Search and Maps.
  • The “innovation by permission” requirement in the legislation could force American companies to get approval from government before launching new features.
  • It would also thwart Google’s research and development spending.

It will ‘degrade security and privacy’: Google

Google said that these bills could prevent them from securing their products by default, and would introduce new privacy risks for users. For instance —

  • The bills could hamper the company’s ability to integrate automated security features if other companies offer similar features, Google said.
  • “Breaking apart the connections between Google tools could limit our ability to detect and protect you against security risks that use security signals across our products,” the company added.
  • Google said that the bill would compel them to share the data with other ‘unknown’ companies

Additionally, Google gave examples of how the bills could possibly hamper day-to-day common searches. For example —

Address search: “If you search for a place or an address, we may not be able to show you directions from Google Maps in your results. As just one example, if you search for “vaccine near me,” we might not be able to show you a map of vaccine locations in your community,” Google said.

Health search: Google said that they may not be able to give ‘immediate and clear information’ if one searched for an urgent query like ‘stroke symptoms’. Users may ‘instead be required to direct you to a mix of low quality results”.

Local businesses: Google said its search engine and Google Maps may be prohibited from highlighting information that it gathers about local businesses and thus, the results may not come up in search results.

What do the pro-competition bills say?

Open App Markets Act: In August 2021, US Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced a new bill targeted at Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. The bill titled Open App Markets Act is co-sponsored by US Senators Marsha Blackburn and Amy Klobuchar, and it aims to address issues that third-party app developers have long complained about. This is what the bill proposes —

  • Operating systems must allow third-party app stores: The bill stipulates that Google and Apple must allow users to download third-party app stores through means other than their own app stores. Users should also be allowed to choose third-party app stores as default and to hide or delete preinstalled app stores. Currently, Google allows third-party app stores with some restrictions, but Apple does not.
  • Developers allowed to choose their choice of in-app payment system: The bill stipulates that developers cannot be forced to use the payment systems owned or controlled by Apple and Google for in-app purchases.
  • Pricing for various app stores or in-app payment systems can be determined by developers: Google and Apple cannot require developers to price apps to be equal or more favorable on their app stores than other app stores.
  • Developers can freely communicate pricing offers with users: Apple and Google cannot impose restrictions to prevent developers from reaching their apps’ users for business offers, pricing terms, product or service offerings.
  • Google and Apple cannot use non-public data to build competing apps: The bill stipulates that Google and Apple cannot use non-public business information derived from a third-party app for the purpose of competing with the app.
  • No self-preferencing in app stores: Apple and Google cannot give more preference to their own or their business partners’ apps and services over third-party ones in app store rankings.
  • Third-party developers must be provided the same access to developer tools: Apple and Google must give all developers the same access to operating system interfaces, development information, and hardware and software features that it gives to its own apps or its business partners.

American Innovation and Choice Online Act: In August, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act was introduced to stop Big Tech from limiting consumer choice. 

According to a press release, the bill seeks to prohibit specific forms of conduct that are harmful to small businesses, entrepreneurs and consumers, but that do not have any pro-competitive benefit, including:

  • Preventing another business’s product or service from interoperating with the dominant platform or another business
  • Requiring a business to buy a dominant platform’s goods or services for preferred placement on its platform
  • Misusing a business’s data to compete against it
  • Biasing search results in favor of the dominant firm

CCI investigating Google over abuse of dominance in news aggregation

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) on January 7 ordered a detailed investigation into Google for its alleged abuse of dominance in the market for news aggregation.

The order was prompted by a complaint filed by the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), which argues that Google takes advantage of their members’ news content in search results but denies them fair advertising revenue. DNPA counts leading news publications including the India Today, NDTV, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, and The Times of India as its members.

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These are the other competition issues that Google faces in India currently —

  • In 2020, Google notified that it will enforce its billing system on all apps downloaded from the Play Store for in-app purchases. Amid objections from Indian start-ups and developers, the CCI launched an investigation to examine Google’s Play Store practices, specifically its high commissions, exclusivity regarding the choice of payment systems for app purchases, preference to Google Pay for payments, and the advantage gained from data collection. In January  2022, CCI informed the Karnataka High Court that it would complete this investigation within 60 days.
  • In 2021, CCI ordered an investigation into Google over its Android TV operating system (OS) used in smart TVs. The competition watchdog is specifically looking into Google’s licensing deals with smart TV manufacturers.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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