The European Commission, earlier this week, formally launched antitrust investigations against Google, accusing the American tech giant of abusing its position of dominance in online shopping searches. The European Commission’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said that she has also expanded the probe to look into whether Google also abuses the dominance of Android to the detriment of rivals.
The commission’s three main concerns revolve around reported agreements, that Google’s OEM partners had to sign, requiring Google’s own apps and services being pre-installed as defaults on Android devices. This hasn’t gone down well with the EU. Further reports that Google has, in the past, allegedly stopped hardware partners – like Acer in 2012 – from using the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) version of Android, has only added more fuel to the fire that was already burning bright. The European Commission will, in all probability, dig deeper into those agreements which Google supposedly forced their hardware partners to sign, but such agreements may be difficult to delve into as details of the relationships between Google and their partners are confidential.
Ben Edelman, a lawyer out of Harvard Law School, claims that in 2014, he got his hands on one such document, known as a MADA, or Mobile Application Distribution Agreement. The document, dated January 1, 2011, is up on his website. It reveals the terms that two of Google’s biggest hardware partners HTC and Samsung entered into with Google in an open court during Google’s trial with Oracle. A few relevant clauses from that document ostensibly shows how Google mandated that “devices may only be distributed if all Google Applications (listed elsewhere in the agreement) … are pre-installed on the device.” Also, the phone manufacturer must “preload all Google Applications approved in the applicable Territory … on each device” and that, they must place “Google’s Search and the Android Market Client icon (Google Play) … at least on the panel immediately adjacent to the Default Home Screen,” with “all other Google Applications … no more than one level below the Phone Top.”
Also, the phone manufacturer must set “Google Search … as the default search provider for all Web search access points.” Mr. Edelman believes “these MADA restrictions suppress competition. Thanks to the MADA, alternative vendors of search, maps, location, email, and other apps cannot outcompete Google on the merits”, he argues. The outcome of this investigation could well influence Google’s mobile platform implementation in Europe and indeed the rest of the world, where Android’s market share is over 80% – much higher than it is in the US. The prospect of crippling fines and potential loss of market-share is a real and present danger if the EU does indeed find Google guilty of throttling competition through unfair means.