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EU Regulators Put Android OS Under The Microscope

In proceeding with her organization’s antitrust case regarding Google’s practices on the continent, the European Union’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has also set her sights on the company’s mobile operating system.

In a lengthy interview with The Wall Street Journal yesterday (Oct. 26), Vestager explains that, while the formal charges she filed against Google (one of her first major acts in her current position with the commission) back in April allege that the search giant is using its search results to selectively prioritize firms that have advertised with Google rather than the most relevant result to the search term, thus not necessarily providing the best offers from sellers that compete with Google’s shopping service, the Android case — which Vestager opened herself, also in April — is investigating the possibility that Google used its position as the maker of Android, which powered roughly 80 percent of smartphones shipped worldwide last year, to effectively force the installation of Google’s own apps and services in order to gain the full operation of an Android phone.

The European Commission’s general complaint on the Android matter, as delineated back in April (shared at the time by TechCrunch), is that the operating system is a “Trojan horse” designed to enable Google to “dominate the mobile marketplace and cement its control over consumer Internet data for online advertising as usage shifts to mobile.”

Telling WSJ in yesterday’s story that the European Commission has made the Android case a “high priority,” Vestager draws the distinction that “it is a different creature than the Google case because people don’t think so much about the operating system on their phone. But those who produce phones or sell phones or develop applications, they are very preoccupied with the operating system.”

As far as how the Commission plans to delineate the Google online shopping case and the Android case, Vestager remarks that “it’s a very fine balance. The shopping case may have similarities when we eventually look at maps and travel and a number of other related services, because the complaints sort of tell the same story. People feel or experience that they are either being demoted or Google preferences its own services. But there is no such thing as you have done one, you’ve done them all. You can’t do that. On the other hand, if you look at the shopping case, then there will be insights that will probably also be valid when it comes to other neighboring markets. But it’s a very, very fine balance, because we cannot do one case and then say the rest is the same. In a union of law and with due process, this cannot be the case.”

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