European Commission’s antitrust chief is ‘looking closely’ at Google’s Android

Google is having a hard time in Europe, as the European Commission is putting the search giant’s Android mobile operating system under a microscope. The Commission’s chief, Margrethe Vestager, spoke at a conference in the Netherlands, and said the Commission is taking a close look at Google’s contract with manufacturers and operators.

The Commission doesn’t want competition to be stifled, and cited the example of how Microsoft packaged its own media player on Windows more than a decade ago. The Commission decided the Redmond company was shutting out competition, given the likelihood that people would just opt to use the default media player on the operating system, rather than installing another, third-party one.

Related: Google will soon censor a lot more ‘damaging’ search results in Europe

On Android devices, manufacturers are free to use the operating system to their liking, which is why many Android phones have “skins” over the operating system, such as Samsung’s TouchWiz. But many Google apps come pre-installed as well, including Google Chrome and YouTube. The Commission wants to look at those contracts to make sure Google isn’t blocking out the competition.

“We need to be sure that big companies don’t try to protect themselves by holding back innovation,” Vestager said. “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.”

The European Commission’s investigation into Google’s services has been ongoing for quite a while, and last year, the Commission sued the search giant over anti-competitive practices for search results and for its Google Shopping search comparisons.

The Commission could issue formal charges as early as this week, as Politico reports antitrust investigators have been pushing the Mountain View company’s rivals and customers to hand over confidential evidence. Such moves usually indicate that the agency is about to escalate an investigation.

Google told Digital Trends that manufacturers can use Android however they wish.

“Anyone can use Android, with or without Google applications,” a spokesperson said. “Hardware manufacturers and carriers can decide how to use Android and consumers have the last word about which apps they want to use on their devices. We continue to discuss this with the European Commission.”

Related: Spotify does actually reduce piracy, claims the European Commission

And the company argued for its partner agreements last year in a blog post, citing that they were voluntary.

“It’s important to remember that these are voluntary — again, you can use Android without Google — but provide real benefits to Android users, developers, and the broader ecosystem,” the company wrote. “Anti-fragmentation agreements, for example, ensure apps work across all sorts of different Android devices. (After all, it would be pretty frustrating if an app you downloaded on one phone didn’t also work on your eventual replacement phone.)”

The company added that bundling pre-loaded apps helps manufacturers compete against “other mobile ecosystems that come pre-loaded with similar baseline apps,” like Apple and Microsoft.

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