EU antitrust regulators to scrutinize Google's Android, report says

Regulators may examine whether or not Google uses Android's dominance to unfairly spread the use of its own services over those of competitors.

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Google's Android mobile operating system, running on a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone James Martin/CNET

Google may soon face a new probe by European antitrust regulators over business practices related to Android, the most popular mobile operating system in the world.

The European Commission is prepping a new investigation that includes sending out questionnaires to companies about their dealings with Google over use of the software, according to a report Wednesday from Reuters.

The scrutiny underscores a concern in Europe over Google's expanding reach and influence. An Android investigation would examine whether or not Google uses the software's dominance to unfairly spread the use of its services over those of rivals. Android, which Google provides to vendors for free, powers almost 80 percent of the smartphones shipped worldwide. Apple's iOS, by contrast, accounts for a little more than 17 percent.

The questionnaires ask for more details than the Commission had inquired about in previous investigations over Android, including one in 2013. One question asks if Google barred vendors from pre-installing apps on their devices that compete with Google services, like search or maps.

While the software is free to use as companies choose, if they want to use the newest version of Android, they must sign a contract that requires them to have at least a certain number of Google services pre-installed, according to a source cited by Reuters.

"Anyone can use Android without Google and anyone can use Google without Android," Google said, in a statement. "Both the U.S. FTC and Korean Fair Trade Commission have examined Google's agreements around Android in depth and concluded that there was no cause for legal concerns."

The possible investigation comes as the EC's current competition chief, Joaquín Almunia, gets ready to leave the post, and a new one prepares to take over in November. Almunia faced widespread criticism from European officials and Google rivals who thought a previous antitrust probe into the way Google presents search engine results was too soft.

In February, Google reached a tentative settlement with the EC after it looked into its practices around surfacing search results related to its own products, versus those of competitors. As part of the settlement, Google agreed to display search results to its own services in the same way as those for rival companies but did not pay a fine.

EU regulators will likely revise some terms of the deal, according to recent news reports. That could mean more changes to the way Google displays search results in Europe. A final decision on whether or not to revise the terms is expected in September.

The developments in the EU come as Google has recently unveiled larger ambitions for Android -- far beyond smartphones and tablets. At the company's I/O conference in June, Google indicated that it wants to inject the software into every facet of customers' lives -- making it the platform that powers everything from smartwatches to televisions to car dashboards.

Updated, 8:09 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Google.

 

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