FTC Expands Antitrust Investigation of Google Android

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In the wake of new antitrust objections to Google's Android operating system announced by the European Commission (EC) last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reportedly widening its own probe into the tech giant.

Citing "people familiar with the matter," the Wall Street Journal earlier this week reported that FTC staff members have recently met with representatives of other companies to discuss "concerns that Alphabet Inc.'s Google abuses the dominance of its Android smartphone software."

Reports in September indicated the FTC had started looking into antitrust concerns connected to Google's control of the Android mobile operating system and related apps. Those new concerns were raised two years after the agency had cleared Google in a prior investigation of possible anticompetitive practices related to the company's Internet search services. Neither Google nor the FTC responded to our requests for comment today.

EC: Google 'Appears To Close Off' Rivals

According to an article published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, two unnamed sources reported that "FTC staffers have recently met with and requested data from at least two companies . . . a signal the probe is progressing and the commission is gathering additional information."

In a statement last week, the advocacy organization Consumer Watchdog urged the FTC to file antitrust charges against Alphabet, Google's parent company, "for using its monopoly power over the Android operating system to stifle competition and unfairly drive consumers to its own services." The call came on the same day the European Commission announced it had formally informed Google that it believed the company "abused its dominant position by imposing restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators."

The EC's move last week marked the next step in its investigation, giving Alphabet and Google the right to examine the investigation file, offer a written response and request an oral hearing to argue the companies' case. The European complaint focuses on practices such as the pre-installation of Google Search as a default search service on most Android devices sold in Europe, which "appear to close off ways for rival search engines to access the market, via competing mobile browsers and operating systems."

Getty Complaint Against Google Images

"It's the same issue here as in Europe," John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project, told us. While Android's share of the mobile operating system market in the U.S. is smaller than in Europe — around 65 percent, compared to around 90 percent — its hold on the domestic market is "still big enough for them to exert improper monopolistic influence," Simpson said. "The FTC should do their job and file charges. The agency should not leave major enforcement actions to the Europeans."

On Tuesday, the visual content provider Getty Images also filed a competition law complaint against Google with the European Commission.

Getty Images, which first joined the European antitrust complaint against Google as an interested third party in June 2015, alleges that changes made to the search functionality of Google Images in 2013 "not only impacted Getty Images' image licensing business, but content creators around the world, by creating captivating galleries of high-resolution, copyrighted content.Because image consumption is immediate, once an image is displayed in high-resolution, large format, there is little impetus to view the image on the original source site."

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