Faces similar probe already initiated against Apple
European Commission investigators are to quiz Google over claims by rivals such as Microsoft and Nokia that it is licensing its Android OS at “below cost”, counter to competition laws.Though the informal probe is at an early stage, it will focus on Google’s relationship with smartphone makers and whether it has pressured them to cancel or delay the launch of Android handsets depending on if those offering alternative OS’s are also due to be introduced.The nature of any exclusivity agreements Google strikes with partners will similarly be examined by Brussels, along with pre-installation pacts that might impose bolt-on apps, such as YouTube, as a condition of licensing Android.
In the first quarter of this year Android accounted for around three quarters of global smartphone sales and, though it is open source, accompanying services such as YouTube generate huge revenues through online advertising.
Critics argue that without the dominance of Android, Google’s bolt-on services would enjoy far less success – and it is this element, they argue, that is anti-competitive.
It is similar to the argument that, at its height, was also levied against Microsoft and its Windows OS which underpinned the success of its programs like Word and Excel.
Meanwhile, on the Google front, the EU is sending a 23-page questionnaire sent to device makers and mobile operators in which they’ll be asked to spell out their relationship with the US technology giant since January 2009.
It follows a two-year investigation of its search business and how it labelled its in-house services and provided links to rivals, though there is no suggestion this and the latest probe are linked.
Once started, EC antitrust probes invariably take several years to conclude, with the commission wielding the power to levy fines of up to 10 per cent of global turnover.
A parallel investigation against Apple, examining whether it too imposed unfair exclusivity terms on operators and phone makers, was also launched last month.