Google Reportedly Facing FTC Antitrust Investigation Over Android

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) might again be investigating Google for potentially anticompetitive practices, this time in relation to the company's handling of its Android mobile operating system and related apps.

"Two people familiar with the matter" told Bloomberg that the FTC is in the early stages of an antitrust investigation into Google after reaching an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which also has the power to enforce regulations on anticompetitive behavior.

In 2013, Google was cleared in a separate FTC probe into possible anticompetitive practices related to its Internet search services. The tech giant is currently facing dual investigations by the European Commission regarding its search services and its Android OS. The FTC did not respond to a request for comment on reports of a new investigation.

EU Investigation 'Ongoing'

"FTC officials have met with technology company representatives who say Google gives priority to its own services on the Android platform, while restricting others, added the people, who asked for anonymity because the matter is confidential," according to a report today in Bloomberg Business.

The global reach of Google and other technology giants, such as Microsoft Relevant Products/Services and Facebook, have repeatedly been the focus of regulators in the U.S., the EU and elsewhere as the influence of each company has grown.

Microsoft and the Justice Department, for example, reached a settlement in 2001, three years after the U.S. filed an antitrust complaint related to the company's bundling of its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system. Under that settlement, Microsoft agreed to share its APIs (application programming interfaces) with third-party companies seeking to develop Windows-compatible software.

In the current EU investigations of Google, European regulators are focusing on whether the company favors its own comparison shopping service in online product searches and whether its Android practices have hurt potential competitors seeking to develop rival mobile operating services, mobile apps or forked versions of the Android OS.

A European Commission spokesperson told us by e-mail that the investigation is ongoing. The commission is not required to meet any deadlines for concluding its investigation, so it's uncertain when its findings will be announced.

Earlier this year, a study sponsored by search competitor Yelp concluded that Google promotes its own content over others' when generating universal search results. That practice is "leaving consumers with lower quality results and worse matches," the study noted.

'Pushing the Boundaries'

John Simpson, director of the Privacy Project at the advocacy organization Consumer Watchdog, told us he was pleased to hear about the FTC's possible investigation of Google.

"I definitely think they are engaged in some anticompetitive behavior with Android," Simpson said, adding that it was his opinion that the mobile operating system favors Google apps. "If the FTC is doing it, more power to them."

With the rapid development of the Internet and related technologies, first-mover companies often have a significant competitive advantage, Simpson said. "I think the tech companies push the boundaries," he added.

As it pertains to the the previous FTC investigation that concluded in 2013, "they really should have thrown the book at them," Simpson said.

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