Europe is getting ready to bring new competition charges against Google, sources say

If found guilty, Google could be looking at a fine of £5.1 billion

Doug Bolton
Tuesday 19 April 2016 19:00 BST
European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager speaks about Google in April 2015
European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager speaks about Google in April 2015 (AFP/Getty)

Google could be about to face legal action from the EU, over concerns that it gives an unfair advantage to its own software on smartphones running its Android operating system.

Citing four sources familiar with the processes, Reuters reports the competition commission is concerned that the internet giant gives more prominence on Android devices to its own apps, over similar services developed by other companies.

According to EU competition boss Margrethe Vestager, the commission is not too worried about Google's demands that phone manufacturers bundle a complete set of Google apps into handsets, since some, like the Play Store, are vital to the Android operating system.

Their issue is more with the company's alleged use of exclusive contracts which put these bundles in place.

“Our concern is that by requiring phone makers and operators to pre-load a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers,” Vestager told an audience in Amsterdam this week.

If the EU found Google guilty of anti-competitive (antitrust) practices, the company could face a fine of 10 per cent of its 2015 revenue - equivalent to around £5.1 billion. Google would also have to change the way it operates in the future.

Some of the rumours of an imminent case come from the complainants against Google. Since February, the EU has been asking them to remove sensitive details from the evidence they have provided to the commission, since these documents are given to Google for its defence.

However, some of the companies concerned say they have been given a 24-hour deadline to do so - suggesting a charge may be brought within days.

Speaking to Reuters, Google denied that it forces phone companies into exclusive contracts, with spokesman Mark Jansen saying: “Anyone can use Android with or without Google applications. Hardware manufacturers and carriers can decide how to use Android and consumers have the last word about which apps they want to use.”

Google has faced antitrust accusations from the EU before, but people close to this case say it may be easier to prove, since it rests on a set of specific contracts which the EU will be able to point to when making accusations of illegal behaviour.

The EU competition commission declined to comment on whether charges involving Android were in the pipeline.

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