Android Probe Has “High Priority”, Says Europe’s Antitrust Chief

Europe’s Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has couched a probe of the Android OS as “high priority” for EU regulators. Investigations into other aspects of the company’s operations are also being prioritized, she said, speaking in an interview with the WSJ.

Her comments suggest European regulators could launch multiple antitrust probes into Google services in future.

“People feel or experience that they are either being demoted, or Google preferences its own services,” she said, describing a common thread that links some of the Google-related complaints.

Despite some cross-over in the character of complaints, she stressed each is being treated as a separate investigation. “What they have in common is that the name Google appears in each one, but apart from that they are very different. And therefore I do not think of it as one Google case but literally as different investigations and different cases,” she said.

“There may be a lesson learned. It’s a very fine balance,” Vestager added, discussing the potential for applying any resolution from one Google product investigation to another. “The shopping case may have similarities when we eventually look at maps and travel and a number of other related services, because the complaints sort of tell the same story. People feel or experience that they are either being demoted, or Google preferences its own services. But there is no such thing as you have done one, you’ve done them all. You can’t do that.

“On the other hand, if you look at the shopping case then there will be insights that will probably also be valid when it comes to other neighboring markets. But it’s a very, very fine balance, because we cannot do one case and then say the rest is the same. In a union of law and with due process, this cannot be the case.”

Vestager announced the in-depth investigation into Google’s mobile operating system back in April — at the same time as issuing a formal Statement of Objections regarding Google’s shopping search comparison service.

The Android probe follows complaints by rivals that Google uses its mobile OS as a “Trojan horse” for other Google services — in order, as they couch it, to “dominate the mobile marketplace and cement its control over consumer Internet data for online advertising as usage shifts to mobile”.

“It is a different creature than the Google [shopping] case because people don’t think so much about the operating system on their phone. But those who produce phones or sell phones or develop applications, they are very preoccupied with the operating system. So we give that a high priority,” said Vestager of the Android probe.

She also confirmed her department is still analyzing Google’s response to its formal statement of objections in the shopping search complaint, noting: “It is high priority but it will take some time because it is analysis and data comparison et cetera, which is challenging.”

The latter investigation has been on-going for some five years, although most of that fell under Vestager’s predecessor in the competition commissioner’s chair, Joaquin Almunia.

“It will take some time but this is a case which is defined by the steps of the case,” she added of the search probe.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update this post with any response.