The Competition Commission of India’s (CCI) investigation wing has asked for the details of agreements between smartphone makers and Google or its group companies. This comes as the anti-trust regulator is digging its investigation more into allegations of misuse of market share by the Android Operating System (OS).
This follows the European Union having fined Google over abuse of Android’s market dominance last year.
The CCI director general has issued letters to several handset makers including Samsung, Xiaomi, Karbonn and Lava, seeking information on terms and conditions of agreements with Google. The CCI also wants to know if Google imposed any restrictions on using the company’s mobile apps and services over eight years beginning April 2011.
It has also sought details of “licence fee or royalty payments made to Google for using Android OS and Google mobile services on a yearly basis, from April 2011 till March 2019”.
The companies were given two weeks to respond as the ongoing investigation is “time bound”. While the companies confirmed receipt of the notice, they declined to comment.
The regulator began its probe into Google’s operating system in mid-April following complaints that Android — which had 99% share of the Indian market as of March 2019 — was blocking out others. Google has said that it will work with the watchdog. People aware of the matter said Google executives will likely be called to appear before the regulator as part of the inquiry.
This is the second such investigation for the Mountain View, California-headquartered company in India.
Rs 136–cr Fine in 2018
In February 2018, the CCI had imposed a Rs 136-crore fine on Google India for search bias and abusing its dominant position on a complaint filed in 2012.
Google was asked to pay $5 billion (Rs 35,000 crore) by European Union regulators last year after they found it guilty of abusing Android’s market dominance on three counts — bundling the search engine and Chrome app into the OS; blocking phone makers from creating devices that run forked-versions of Android; and making payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators to exclusively bundle the Google search app on handsets.
Other details sought by CCI include the annual sale of devices by operating system (OS) for brands, smartphones and tablets between 2011 and 2019. It has also asked for information on mobile application distribution, anti-fragmentation, Android compatibility or any other agreement with Google or any of its units in the same period. Companies wanting Google apps have to sign an anti-fragmentation agreement, which means they can’t pick and choose what apps to offer from the suite of products.
Handset makers will also have to share information on their own app stores, the number of apps they feature, yearly investment on R&D, maintenance and upgradation of app stores and yearly revenue in the same period. The CCI has also asked whether the app stores of rivals can be installed on smartphones and sought details on this.