The anti-competitive practices by Google lands it in a new anti-trust case in India

Google is facing a new anti-trust challenge in India, one of its key markets, and is accused of abusing its dominance with AndroidTV in the smart television market.

Alphabet Inc’s Google is facing a new antitrust case in India in which the US tech giant is alleged to have abused its Android operating system’s position in the smart television market. A fresh complaint has been filed with the Competition Commission of India (CCI), accusing the US-based tech major of abusing its dominant market position in smart television operating systems.

The case is Google’s fourth major antitrust challenge in India, since 2018. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has since June been looking into allegations that Google engages in anti-competitive practices by creating barriers for firms wanting to use or develop modified versions of Android for smart TVs, such as Amazon Fire TV’s operating system.

The case has been filed by two antitrust lawyers, Kshitiz Arya and Purushottam Anand. Both the lawyers filed the complaint against Google with CCI in the first week of June.

The latest case alleges that Google’s agreements with companies such as Xiaomi and TV manufacturer, TCL India effectively stop them from using both the Android system and a modified version of it on different devices they make.

For example, if you are a TV maker and you want to use Google’s operating system on your TV, before giving the licence to you, they sign an agreement with you which essentially restricts you from getting into an agreement with any forked or modified Android developer, irrespective of the device being manufactured.

Unlike Indian court cases, filings and details of cases reviewed by the CCI are not disclosed publicly. The antitrust watchdog could order a wider investigation against Google if it finds merit in the allegations, or throw out the case completely.

Why Google indulges in anti-competitive practices?

It has been noticed that smart TVs or Wi-Fi enabled TVs with apps for streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, have become increasingly popular in India in recent times. According to research data, around 8 Million smart TV sets were sold in India in 2019 and three in five smart TVs sold in India were based on Google’s Android system, which also powers nearly 99 percent of India’s half a billion-smartphone user base.

Google has demonstrated anti-competitive behaviour by using a series of anti-competitive contracts that push people to rely on Google search when using phones or smart TVs with the Android operating system. Google often requires manufacturers of smartphones and smart TVs to pre-install and give default status to Google’s own apps in order to build its dominant status in the market.

Already facing heat in India

Recently, app developers and entrepreneurs in India came together to protest against Google’s Play Store billing policy. The Indian app makers are demanding a national app store alternative to Google Play. The move was taken to end Google’s monopoly in India over Play Store. This call for an alternative started shortly after the company announced a 30 percent fee for the apps that are there on Google Play but are not using Google’s billing system. 

Google reaches more internet users than any other firm in India and commands 99 percent of India’s smartphone market. In most international markets, Apple and Google together form a duopoly when it comes to app distribution, but the situation is quite different in India. The Indian smartphone market majorly runs on android phones, and therefore solely relies on the Play Store giving Google a monopoly in the market.

The move by Indian entrepreneurs came into force in light of the way the company misuses its dominance and pulls several Indian apps from the Play Store. Paytm was amongst the key Indian apps that were recently pulled from the Google Play. Swiggy and Zomato are also continuously receiving notices from Google for not complying with their Play Store policies. The practice of sending notices to app developers to comply with Google Play’s policies is in place for quite some time by Google now, and this has led to Indian app developers demanding an Indian version of the Play Store.

“Search Bias case”

In 2018, the CCI fined Google 1.36 Billion rupees ($18.5 Million) for “search bias,” but a firm’s appeal against that is pending. The CCI last year also started probing Google for allegedly misusing its dominant position to reduce the ability of smartphone makers to opt for alternate versions of its Android system.

Earlier this year also, the CCI started reviewing a case alleging that Google abuses its market position to unfairly promote its mobile payments app in the country.

Google also faces anti-trust challenges in US and China

Not only in India, but Google also faces new antitrust challenges in the United States, and a potential antitrust probe in China as well. The company is alleged to be misusing its monopoly in the online search and marketing industry in the US. Google is accused of creating an “ecosystem of interlocking monopolies” – which it has maintained through anti-competitive practices in the country.

A Big Tech anti-trust report from top Democratic congressional lawmakers in the US suggested that not only Google, but the other three biggest tech giants including Amazon, Apple, and Facebook are also engaged in a range of anti-competitive behaviour.

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