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Why Germany is launching an antitrust investigation into Google Maps

Germany’s Bundeskartellamt initiated a proceeding against Google to examine possible anti-competitive restrictions imposed by Google Maps.

What’s the news? Germany’s federal cartel office Bundeskartellamt on June 21 announced that it has initiated a proceeding against Google to examine possible anti-competitive restrictions imposed by Google Maps Platform to the detriment of alternative map services providers.

Why does this matter? Google is not new to antitrust investigations. The company’s various products and services such as Play Store, Google News, Google Search, Android, and the multiple digital ad tools offered by the company are subject to antitrust investigations around the world including in India. Google Maps, however, has maintained a relatively low profile on that front. But this seems to be changing with the US picking up pace in its investigation into Maps in March and now Germany looking into the platform as well.

What is the investigation about? “Google Maps Platform offers access to several map services. Applications of these services include embedding the maps into third-party websites, for example, to show the locations of shops or hotels. The preliminary assessment is that Google restricts in particular the possibility to combine Google’s map services with third-party maps. This practice could impair competition in the area of map services,” the German antitrust watchdog stated.

 “We have information to suggest that Google may be restricting the combination of its own map services with third-party map services, for example when it comes to embedding Google Maps location data, the search function or Google Street View into maps not provided by Google. Among other aspects, we will now examine whether this practice could allow Google to further expand its position of power regarding certain map services. We will also look into the licencing terms and conditions for the use of Google’s map services in vehicles.” — Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt

Germany’s increased scrutiny of tech platforms: Earlier this year, Bundeskartellamt classified Google, Meta/Facebook and Amazon as companies that are of paramount significance for competition across markets under powers given by the new Section 19a of the German Competition Act introduced in early 2021. This classification gives the regulator more leeway to rein in any anti-competitive behaviour since any company declared to be of “paramount significance for competition across markets” will be prohibited from certain specified practices and the designated company carries the burden of proving the practice’s pro-competitive effects. Ever since the introduction of this antitrust provision, Germany has significantly increased its scrutiny of tech platforms, launching investigations into Google’s terms and conditions for data processing and Google News Showcase, apart from multiple services and products of Apple and Facebook. Just last week, Bundeskartellamt initiated a proceeding against Apple regarding its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) Framework.

What next? The cartel office said that it will start investigating customers and competitors of the Google Maps Platform as part of the investigation.

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