A year ago, EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced antitrust charges against Google related to the ubiquity of the company’s web products like search. On Wednesday, Vestager announced similar charges related to Google’s Android mobile operating system, which dominates the international smartphone market.
Vestager presented a “statement of objections,” which outlines Android’s power to steer users toward Google services like search and the Chrome browser, allegedly making it difficult for competitor services to gain any type of traction. The commission estimates that 80 percent of internet-connected mobile devices in Europe run Android, because Google licenses the operating system to manufacturers. The licensing agreement requires pre-installation of Google Search and the Chrome browser, and includes financial incentives for doing so.
Vestager said in a statement on Wednesday, “Based on our investigation thus far, we believe that Google’s behaviour denies consumers a wider choice of mobile apps and services and stands in the way of innovation by other players, in breach of EU antitrust rules.”
Google will have 12 weeks to prepare an official response, and the New York Times reports that a decision about the seperate, but related antitrust charges from last year should also come out in the next few months. Google senior vice president and general counsel Kent Walker wrote in a statement on Wednesday, “We take these concerns seriously, but we also believe that our business model keeps manufacturers’ costs low and their flexibility high, while giving consumers unprecedented control of their mobile devices.”
The outcomes from these and other complaints brought by the EU competition commission may be influential in other markets, as tech giants continue to expand on mobile. For example, in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission conducted a significant antitrust probe of Google after other large companies complained that Google was skewing its search results to favor its own products and services. The FTC eventually settled with Google in 2013, but did have findings about the company’s anticompetitive behavior that have been slowly leaking.
Precedent from other countries could reopen or ignite controversies outside the EU. And decisions that aren’t in Google’s favor could threaten its business model for Android, which has made $31 billion in revenue for Google according to Oracle Corp. Google makes the vast majority of its money from ads—for example $19.1 billion out of $21.2 billion in the last quarter of 2015—so tighter controls on how the company presents its services or weights its search algorithm could cut into the company’s advertising reach, significantly affecting revenue.