Microsoft, Nokia and co, which last week made a complaint over Google’s dominance with Android, face a tricky path ahead proving the search giant is deliberately diverting users to its own services.
The group, under the FairSearch banner, is complaining that as the online advertising market shifts increasingly to mobile platforms with the rise in smartphones and tablets, Google is giving itself an unfair head start with its Android OS.
The firms claim that Google is giving its mobile platform away for no cost to Android phone makers, who must then pre-load Google mobile services and give them prominent default placement on the phone if they want to offer users must-have Google apps such as Maps, YouTube or Play.
This is unfair, the group states, as it means Google is infiltrating the mobile market with its Android “Trojan Horse” to then reap all the revenues from mobile search and apps by promoting its own services.
FairSearch comprises 17 diverse organisations, including tech firms Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle, shopping comparison sites Shop City and Twenga, and online travel giants TripAdvisor and Expedia.
Nokia said that its support for the FairSearch complaint is based on wanting to get a fair deal for mobile users and the wider technology industry.
“Google uses tactics and contract practices which raise concerns under most antitrust regimes,” the firm told V3.
“These behaviours hurt consumers, as they effectively reduce consumer choice and prevent innovation from reaching the market. We believe that ultimately everyone but Google will lose out. Nokia is supportive of competition authorities investigating Google’s behaviour in the interests of consumers, as well as ensuring compliance with competition law.”
However, other members of the consortium were reluctant to share their views on the complaint, or offer any response to whether they themselves might use Android as well as other platforms.
As several of the members represent the travel industry, V3 contacted Expedia and TripAdvisor to hear their views, but both firms said they were unable to comment on the complaint and referred us to FairSearch, which also declined to offer further comment.
“They are not commenting and I would refer you back to the release on the FairSearch blog. I'm sorry, we don't have any additional comment for now,” said FairSearch’s spokesperson.
Of course, this could be due to concerns over making statements that are then used as part of the ongoing case, but the initial reaction to the complaint, which was not all positive, might mean those involved are now trying to distance themselves from the issue.
V3 readers did not generally feel the complaint had merit.
“The last time I checked, none of these companies are prevented from using Android. Microsoft and Nokia can use Android, remove Google apps, and supply their own services. No-one is preventing Nokia from doing this. It's been done before (Amazon does a nice job of this), and others will continue to do it in the future,” pointed out one reader.
“Of course, Microsoft and Nokia can continue to push Windows Phone 8, but if it's not popular enough, whose responsibility is that? Next you'll hear complaints from Microsoft that Google Docs monopolises cloud computing spreadsheets, and that Office isn't as popular for cloud spreadsheets. Whose responsibility is that?”
Wendell Anderson also felt the complaint was a non-issue, listing the examples of the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook tablet and Samsung's Galaxy S4 phone, “all of which are directly controlled in functionality and use by the respective vendors, leaving Google with no monopolistic position what-so-ever”.
He added, “Even the announced Facebook smartphone will consist of a software layer that is fully under the command of Facebook for all search, advertising, GPS, mapping and other features and functionality.”
However, Gregg Butler felt the group has a strong legal case.
“Giving away a product for free to wipe out the competition is an illegal practice,” he noted.
“Think about it - if they wipe all other competitors off the market, they'd end up charging what they want, which never seems to be what the public wants.”
Whatever the outcome of the complaint, any decision is likely to take a protracted period to reach, as Paul Stone, head of Competition and Regulation at law firm Charles Russell explained.
"The concern from companies that have submitted the complaint seems to be that Google is using its Android operating system to divert traffic to its own search engine and its other services, to the exclusion of competitor services,” he said.
“One of the key questions for the European Commission will be whether Google is actively diverting customers to its own services, or whether this is a result of customers simply exercising their own preferences. It is likely to take the Commission some time to establish which is the case."
V3 contacted the EC to find out whether it has received the FairSearch complaint and how long the process is likely to take to decide whether Google is in the wrong. The EC has yet to respond.
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