Google hits back at European Union’s antitrust allegations

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Google Inc. is pushing back strongly on European Union allegations that it abused the dominance of its Android smartphone operating system in order to favor its own applications and services.

In April, Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s outspoken competition commissioner, filed a long list of antitrust charges against the Internet giant. These included the claim that Google used practices such as making manufacturers pre-install applications like Google Search and Google Chrome, and set these as the default option. According to the EU, Google’s tactics are effectively closing the door to rival search engines and browsers.

But in a blog post Friday, Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president and general counsel, said the EU’s accusations were “unfounded” and were not based on the realities of today’s market.

Regarding Google’s requirement that smartphone manufacturers pre-install the company’s apps on their phones, Walker said this was to ensure that hardware makers adhere to a “baseline Android framework.” He claims that’s necessary to avoid fragmentation within Android, which he claims dogged older operating systems like Symbian and Unix in the past — and, many argue, that plagues Android itself. The point is to try to establish a certain level of compatibility between devices, so that applications will run on as many Android handsets as possible, Walker said.

Furthermore, Walker pointed out that Android smartphone users aren’t being forced to use Google’s apps. If consumers don’t want to use them, they can “swipe away any of our apps at any time,” he said.

Hardware manufacturers have the same freedom too, Walker claimed. He noted that manufacturers are free to build and innovate atop of the Android baseline he described, and that they can also choose to pre-install many of their own apps, which many commonly do.

Lastly, Walker also questioned why Google was receiving such attention from the EU when rival firms like Apple and Microsoft engage in the same kinds of practices. Both companies also pre-install applications onto their smartphones, and are actually worse offenders, he insisted. Whereas Google’s pre-installed apps usually make up around one-third of the apps preloaded on a new devices, 39 out of 47 pre-installed apps on the Microsoft Lumia 500 running Windows 10 are Microsoft’s own, while on the iPhone 8, 100 percent of the pre-installed apps are Apple’s.

The case is but one of three EU antitrust wrangles that Google is embroiled in. The others relate to accusations that Google abuses its market power by offering its online advertising on third-party websites that use Google’s search engine, and that it unfairly favors its own search results for online shopping above rival firms.

Regarding the Android case, Google could be fined up to $7.5 billion, or 10 percent of its annual revenue, if it’s found to be in violation of the EU’s antitrust rules. The company has already been found guilty of similar charges in Russia, where it was fined $6.8 million.

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