Google faces renewed US antitrust scrutiny, this time over Android

25 Sep, 2015 11:15 pm

WASHINGTON – The US Federal Trade Commission has opened a preliminary investigation into whether Google Inc (GOOGL.O) uses its Android operating system to dominate competitors as more consumers go mobile, two sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The Android mobile platform is a key element in Google’s strategy to maintain revenue from online advertising as people switch from Web browser searches to smartphone apps. The FTC had investigated Google for allegedly breaking antitrust law but that probe ended in a settlement.

Reuters reported in April that some technology companies had complained to the US Department of Justice about Google’s anti-competitive practices and urged the regulator to investigate allegations that Google unfairly uses its Android system to win online advertising.

The FTC and the Justice Department conferred, and decided that the FTC would take the case, one source said. The probe is in its very early stages, according to sources.

Both Google and the FTC declined comment.

The FTC probe focuses on whether Google is telling Android handset makers which Google apps they must show on their phones, and how and where they are displayed, the source said.

There have been complaints about requirements that Google search, maps and other products be given a prominent place on the handsets.

The requirements make it impractical for handset makers to put Google rivals on their smartphone’s home screen.

Fairsearch, a technology trade group, said it welcomed the FTC probe, adding that Google “has used a range of anticompetitive tactics.”

“The stakes are extremely high, because Google’s behavior impacts the entire mobile ecosystem, including map and location services, and app developers,” the group said in a statement.

Google shares were down 0.6 percent at $650.81 in mid-day trading.

The investigation was first reported by Bloomberg.

Google previously tangled with the FTC over Web search allegations and reached a settlement in 2013 that required the company to stop “scraping” reviews and other data from rival websites for its own products. The FTC also required Google to allow advertisers to export data to evaluate advertising campaigns independently.

After that settlement, the FTC was embarrassed by the inadvertent release of documents that showed key staff members argued that Google broke antitrust law. Google dropped some of the worst practices and commissioners opted to settle.

The European Union has accused Google of distorting Web search results to favor its own shopping service as well, and is now probing the Android mobile operating system. -Reuters

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