Google is being targeted by antitrust authorities in the European Union yet again, this time on the mobile app front. While it has only been a year since the firm was heavily penalized by the largest political bloc on the Old Continent, it's now facing a more localized investigation started by the Dutch government.
The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) recently announced the start of a probe into Apple's App Store practices, adding that it's also seeking input on Google and its own digital storefront, by far the largest such distribution platform in the Android ecosystem. As the Android operating system happens to account for the vast majority of active smartphones in the world, including the Netherlands, Amsterdam is now looking at what policies are behind the manner wherein it's run and whether those rulesets are in any way harmful to the very concept of paid competition. Right now, the focus is on transparency and potential lack thereof but the investigation is bound to expand as suggestions from affected app creators and distributors keep coming.
The ACM wants to protect any and all app developers and publishers that may be affected by store policies that constitute abuse, the agency said, noting it already has some "indications" of that being the case in the world of iOS software and expressing a belief about how something similar might apply in the case of Google, though it doesn't appear it received any complaints against Alphabet's subsidiary in that regard as of right now.
What may hurt the legitimacy of the probe is its origin; as the lack of any successful litigation arguing the opposite illustrates, antitrust claims aimed at Apple are frivolous by virtue of the fact iOS isn't licensed to third parties and even if it was, it accounts for a minuscule percentage of the overall smartphone user base across the world.
While many doubted and still doubt the effectiveness of the 2018 fine sanctioned by the European Commission following years of in-depth investigations, there's no denying its power of drawing the attention of the entire world to Google's mobile practices and how they dovetail with its dominance in other tech segments. At least partially due to that trembling aftermath of the $5-billion fine, still by far the largest one ever issued by an EU body over antitrust violations, the Department of Justice in Google's home country was also considering a probe of the technology juggernaut's business with the goal of determining whether any of its policies are detrimental to the overall state of market competition in the United States. Any market.
Even as prominent Google critics such as Yelp would argue the answer to that question is a clear and resounding "yes," no such investigation was started to date. Half a year following the original report on the matter, it seems unlikely the DOJ would still be weighing its options when it comes to such a high-profile case. What's equally unlikely is that some kind of a probe began in secrecy; the antitrust division of the DOJ has a traditionally weak handle on internal leaks, with one of the more recent examples being the fact that most of its dealings surrounding the highly sensitive AT&T acquisition of Time Warner ended up in the public weeks before becoming official.