India’s competition watchdog, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) on December 7 opened a new antitrust investigation against Google over alleged abuse of dominant position in news aggregation, following a complaint filed by the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA).
The CCI said in the order that it is of the initial view that Google is dominant in the market for online general web search services and market for online search advertising services in India, which it believes is the relevant market for this case.
“Google is using its dominant position in the relevant markets to enter/protect its position in the news aggregation services market. It appears that news publishers are dependent on Google for the majority of the traffic, which makes Google an indispensable trading partner for news publishers” the CCI said.
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This is the CCI’s fifth such antitrust probe against Google in India. Here’s a quick look at them:
Search Bias: The CCI had imposed a fine of Rs 135.86 crore on Google for “search bias” and abusing its dominant position in online general web search and web search advertising services in the country in February 2018. The order was passed following complaints filed by Matrimony.com and Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) in 2012.
Android mobile operating system: In April 2019, The CCI had ordered a probe against Google’s alleged abuse of Android’s dominance in India, following a complaint by two antitrust research associates and a law school student in 2018. Android powers around 98 percent of the smartphones in the country.
On September 23, Google had taken the CCI to court over alleged “leak” of a confidential interim report related to ongoing investigation. The case was dismissed a few days later, with the CCI agreeing to the company’s requests to keep information confidential during the course of the investigation.
Google Play & Google Pay: In November 2020, the CCI directed a probe into the issue of mandatory use of Google Play Store’s payment system for paid apps and in-app purchases. The investigation will also examine whether Google’s payment business Google Pay has abused its dominance in the digital payments market.
On January 5, the CCI told the Karnataka High Court that its investigation arm Director General (DG) has given an assurance that they will complete the ongoing investigation on Google within 60 days ‘in all likelihood’.
Additional Solicitor General N Venkataraman, who was appearing on behalf of the competition watchdog, made this submission during a hearing on the petition filed by Google at the Karnataka High Court seeking more time to respond to questions related to investigation.
Smart TV market: In June 2021, CCI ordered an investigation into allegations of Google abusing its dominance in the Android operating system in India’s smart television market. The investigation was ordered following a case filed by two lawyers Kshitiz Arya and Purushottam Anand.
In its order, CCI said that its initial view is that Google is dominant in the market of licensable smart TV device operating systems in India and based on the information available, it is “convinced that a case is made out for directing an investigation by the DG.”
Global antitrust investigations against Google
Apart from India, Google is also facing antitrust scrutiny across several areas of its businesses from multiple regulators in different parts of the world. Here’s a quick look at some of them:
August 2021: US Senators Richard Blumenthal, Marsha Blackburn, and Amy Klobuchar introduced a bipartisan antitrust bill ‘Open App Markets Act’ that targets the app marketplaces of Apple and Google.
They said both the companies have gatekeeper control of the two dominant mobile operating systems and their app stores that allow them to exclusively dictate the terms of the app market, inhibiting competition and restricting consumer choice.
July 2021: A group of 36 US state attorneys general filed an antitrust lawsuit targeting the company’s Google Play Store practices, alleging that the company has abused its dominance on the sale and distribution of apps through its app marketplace.
October 2020: US Department of Justice along with eleven state attorneys general filed an antitrust lawsuit to stop Google from “unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets.”
Two separate antitrust cases with similar charges were filed in December 2020 – one by a coalition of about 38 US states and another by a smaller group of 10 US States.
Advertising technology: In June 2021, European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation to evaluate whether the company has favoured its own online display advertising technology services over its competitors in the so called “ad tech” supply chain.
Android: In 2018, the European Commission imposed a record fine of $5 billion (4.34 billion euros) for breaching its antitrust laws with its Android operating system.
The Commission had then said that Google has imposed illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators to cement its dominant position in search. Google filed an appeal to overturn this ruling in September 2021.
ALSO READ: All you need to know about CCI’s antitrust probe against Apple’s app store practices
Online Advertising: In March 2019, the European Union fined Google about $1.7 billion (1.49 billion euros) for violating its antitrust rules in the online advertising market. Google has appealed this fine.
Shopping Comparison: In 2017, Google was fined $2.7 billion (2.4 billion euros) for unfairly favouring its own shopping services over its rivals in search results. Google had appealed against this ruling but lost the court challenge in November 2021.
Australia passed a legislation in February 2021 that would force digital companies such as Google and Facebook to pay local publishers for news content.
This law allows eligible news businesses to bargain individually or collectively with digital platforms over payments to include their news content on latter’s platforms and services.
Meanwhile, Australia’s competition regulator Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) also sought powers to curb Google’s dominance in the adtech sector on September 2021.
In a report that was published as part of its 18-month long inquiry examining competition issues in the digital advertising sector, the regulator said that the “enforcement action under Australia’s existing competition laws alone is not sufficient to address the competition issues in the sector, and that the ACCC should be given powers to develop specific rules in response”
As per the report’s findings, Google has a dominant position in key parts of the ad tech supply chain, with more than an estimated 90 per cent of ad impressions traded via the ad tech supply chain passed through at least one Google service in 2020.
Copyright row: Google was fined up to $592 million (up to 500 million euros) in July 2021 for not complying with the regulator’s orders on how to conduct negotiations with publishers for paying to use news content.
Isabelle de Silva, then president of French Competition Authority, said that they found that Google had not complied with several injunctions issued in April 2020 at the end of an in-depth investigation. She also said the company “unjustifiably restricted the scope of the negotiation”
“Google’s negotiations with press publishers and agencies cannot be regarded as having been conducted in good faith, while Google imposed that the discussions necessarily take place within the framework of a new partnership, called Publisher Curated News, which included a new service called Showcase” she said.
In doing so, de Silva said, the company refused to have a “specific decision on the remuneration due for current uses of content protected by related rights”
Google has appealed against this decision.
Online Advertising: In June 2021, Google agreed to pay $270 million (220 million euros) penalty along with some changes to its business practices as part of a settlement with French antitrust regulator.
The regulator had accused Google of abusing its dominance in the online advertising sector to favour its own advertising technologies.
South Korea’s antitrust regulator The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) fined Google $177 million (207.4 billion South Korean Won) for allegedly abusing Android’s market dominance to limit competition in the mobile operating system market in September 2021.
The regulator said the search giant was blocking smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from using modified versions of Android operating systems through its anti-fragmentation agreements.
South Korea’s parliament also approved a bill in August 2021 that bans app store operators like Google and Apple from forcing app developers to use their own billing systems for in-app purchases.
The Japan Fair Trade Commission has opened an antitrust probe to investigate whether Google and Apple are using their dominance in the smartphone operating system market to eliminate competition and severely limit options for consumers, according to a Nikkei Asia report.
On January 5, 2022, Germany’s competition regulator Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt) noted that Google has “paramount significance across markets” and is therefore subject to special abuse control that was established to monitor large digital companies as part of an overhauled German competition law in January last year.
FCO president Andreas Mundt said this will now allow them to “take action against specific anti-competitive practices” by Google. “We have already started to look into Google’s processing of personal data and to deal with the Google News Showcase issue in more detail,” he said.