Google's conduct may result in denial of market access for competing apps: CCI
It was also alleged that Google prevents device manufacturers in India from developing and marketing modified and potentially competing versions of Android for other devices, thereby allegedly hindering the development and market access of rival mobile applications.
The Competition Commission (CCI) has ordered a detailed probe against Google for alleged abuse of Android mobile platform after concluding that the conduct might result in denial of market access for competing apps.
The order came on a complaint, which alleged the search giant indulged in anti-competitive practices by mandating smartphone and tablet manufacturers to exclusively pre-install Google's applications and services in smartphones manufactured or sold in India.
Besides, it was also alleged that Google prevents device manufacturers in India from developing and marketing modified and potentially competing versions of Android for other devices, thereby allegedly hindering the development and market access of rival mobile applications.
Ordering the investigation, the watchdog said it is of the prima facie opinion that "mandatory pre-installation of entire GMS (Google Mobile Services) suite under MADA (Mobile Application Distribution Agreement) amounts to imposition of unfair condition on the device manufacturers" which contravenes competition norms".
It also amounts to prima facie leveraging of Google's dominance in Play Store to protect the relevant markets such as online general search, the 14-page order said.
Mobile search has emerged as a key gateway for users to access information and Android is a key distribution channel for mobile search engines.
Search engines exhibit data-driven scale effects. Improvements in search algorithm require sufficient volume of data, which, in turn, needs sufficient volume of queries from users who are increasingly resorting to mobile search.
"Thus, the impugned conduct of Google may help perpetuate its dominance in the online search market while resulting in denial of market access for competing search apps...," the order said.
According to the CCI, Google's plea that MADA pre-installation conditions are not exclusive or exclusionary can also be appropriately examined during the investigation.
The probe would also look at the role of persons who were in charge of, and were responsible to the companies at the time the alleged contravention was committed.
"The Director General (DG) will also investigate such officers of the companies who consented to or connived in respect of the alleged contravention or the alleged contravention was attributable to any neglect on the part of such officers," the CCI said.
The regulator has directed the DG to complete the investigation and submit the report within a period of 150 days.
Responding to the allegations, Google contested that the pre-installation obligation is limited in scope.
"Android users have considerable freedom to customise their phones and install apps that compete with Google. Consumers can quickly and easily move or disable pre-installed apps, including Google's apps," it said.
The order dated April 16, 2019 has now been made public by the CCI.