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Europe Turns Antitrust Attention To Google Maps For Android
European Commission is polling Google mapping and navigation rivals about impact of Google Maps for Android on their businesses.
The antitrust investigation (or enforcement action) against Google in Europe is currently focused on shopping search. There’s an earlier stage, but parallel investigation of Android is now taking off.
Comments from regulators and European politicians suggest there’s a potentially long road ahead for Google and many investigations to come. Indeed, a more formal local search investigation is probably next in line.
On the Android question, the EC is soliciting input from Google Maps competitors about its impact on their businesses. According to Bloomberg this includes:
[W]hether Google Maps for phones has supplanted portable or in-car navigation devices, such as those produced by TomTom NV and the HERE unit of Nokia Oyj . . . Officials are also seeking data, such as user numbers, about downloaded or pre-installed mapping apps on devices, as well as costs mapmakers face to produce a mobile-ready app.
Without knowing sales figures or what the results of the inquiry will be, I can say with near certainty the answer is “Yes.” Smartphone-based navigation has largely supplanted personal/in-car navigation devices for a majority of mobile users.
The current Android investigation and any subsequent action by the EC will probably lead to similar action to what was taken by the Russians: Russian competition authorities recently ruled against Google and barred pre-installed apps on Android devices as a condition of OEM access to Google Play.
This will probably become the template for Android-focused regulatory actions. A reasonable analogy is “browser choice” in the European Microsoft antitrust action years ago. Microsoft was eventually prevented from maintaining the Explorer browser as the Windows OS default (Interestingly, the new Edge browser is in that default position again).
Google’s regulatory headache extends across the Atlantic, too. Based largely on what’s happening elsewhere in the world, the US Federal Trade Commission has reportedly opened or re-opened an investigation into whether Google’s control over the Android operating system unfairly disadvantages competitors, especially around app pre-install requirements.
Postscript: Google contacted me and strongly disputes the “browser choice” analogy to Microsoft that I’ve made above. The company provided me with a good deal of material that argues against the analogy. I’m not going to reproduce that all here and am waiting for a more succinct statement from the company.
Postscript 2: Google points to the decision in 2013 by the Korean equivalent of the FTC to clear Google of antitrust charges. In an email to me Google quoted the Korean antitrust authority in that case:
- “mobile device manufacturers admitted that they have preloaded the Google Search application because of their own needs and the Google Play application and the Google Search application are provided for free without charging any unnecessary cost”
- “users can easily download and use competing applications via various mobile application stores”
- “users can easily switch to other search engines and the mobile search on a default search engine is not highly used compared to other search methods”
- “The Google Play application and the Google Search application constitute two separate products, but in light of domestic and overseas business practices, providing a mobile store application along with another application does not appear to contravene a common market practice… It is difficult to conclude that this practice interfered with the free choice of mobile device manufacturer or caused them to bear unnecessary cost”