India fines Google $162 million for anti-competitive practices on Android

India’s competition regulator fined Google $161.9 million on Thursday for anti-competitive practices related to Android mobile devices in “multiple markets” in a major setback for the search giant in the key overseas nation where it has poured billions of dollars over the past decade.

The Competition Commission of India, which began investigating Google three and a half years ago after a complaint from two junior associates and a law school student, said in a press release that Google requiring device manufacturers to pre-install its entire Google Mobile Suite and mandating prominent placement of those apps “amounts to imposition of unfair condition on the device manufacturers” and thus was in “contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(a)(i) of the Act.”

India is Google’s largest market by users. Google’s Android operating system powers 97% of the country’s 600 million smartphones, according to research firm Counterpoint.

Google in 2020 pledged to invest $10 billion in the South Asian market over the coming years. It has already financed up to $5.5 billion in the local telecom giants Jio Platforms and Airtel.

The competition regulator’s handling of the much-anticipated report itself earned headlines last year after a draft of its findings was sourced and reported by the press. In response, Google moved to sue the regulator in court over the leak of the report and protested against “the breach of confidence,” which it said impairs its ability to “defend itself and harms Google and its partners.”

In its statement on Thursday, the regulator said it also found the following in its investigation:

Google has perpetuated its dominant position in the online search market resulting in denial of market access for competing search apps in contravention of Section 4(2)(c) of the Act.

Google has leveraged its dominant position in the app store market for Android OS to protect its position in online general search in contravention of Section 4(2)(e) of the Act.

Google has leveraged its dominant position in the app store market for Android OS to enter as well as protect its position in non-OS specific web browser market through Google Chrome App and thereby contravened the provisions of Section 4(2)(e) of the Act.

Google has leveraged its dominant position in the app store market for Android OS to enter as well as protect its position in OVHPs market through YouTube and thereby contravened provisions of Section 4(2)(e) of the Act.

Google, by making pre-installation of Google’s proprietary apps (particularly Google Play Store) conditional upon signing of AFA/ ACC for all Android devices manufactured/ distributed/ marketed by device manufacturers, has reduced the ability and incentive of device manufacturers to develop and sell devices operating on alternative versions of Android i.e., Android forks and thereby limited technical or scientific development to the prejudice of the consumers, in violation of the provisions of Section 4(2)(b)(ii) of the Act.

The watchdog was investigating whether Google had assumed dominant position in five different markets: licensable OS for smartphones, app store, web search services, non-OS specific mobile web browsers and online video hosting platform in India.

Google was dominant in all of those relevant markets, the regulator concluded.

The antitrust watchdog said in its statement that device manufacturers should not be forced to install Google’s bouquet of apps and the search giant should not deny access to its Play Services APIs and monetary and other incentives to vendors.

The regulator’s order may curtail Google’s growth pace in the market, analysts said. And it’s unclear just how Google can comply with the remedial measures without making some fundamental changes in its business strategies.

Google is facing mounting scrutiny from governments across the globe as policymakers begin to worry about the reach of technology giants and assess whether that is in detriment to local companies. Google lost its appeal against a record $4.3 billion fine in EU for using the dominance of Android to thwart competition. It’s also subject to Germany’s new regulation that targets large companies.

Two years ago, more than 150 startups and firms in India began working to form an alliance and toyed with the idea of launching an app store to cut their reliance on Google. The pushback prompted Google to delaying the enforcement of its new Play Store billing rule in the country.

Jagmeet Singh contributed to the report.