Google wins partial relief in Android antitrust case in India

Google received some relief in the key market of India on Wednesday after a tribunal court set aside four of 10 directives, including the need to permit hosting of third-party app stores within Play Store and restricting uninstallation of pre-installed apps by users, in an antitrust case related to the abuse of company’s dominant position in Android.

The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal upheld the $161 million penalty levied on Google by the local watchdog, Competition Commission of India (CCI), saying the earlier verdict was “not in violation of the principles of natural justice,” but offered the Android-maker some relief.

India is Google’s largest market by users. The Android operating system powers 97% of the country’s 600 million smartphones, according to research firm Counterpoint. The CCI’s ruling directed Google to make several changes to its business practices that many analysts argued could topple the company’s global operations.

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

“We are grateful for the opportunity given by the NCLAT to make our case. We are reviewing the order and evaluating our legal options,” a Google spokesperson said of today’s verdict in a statement.

The CCI had also ordered Google to not deny access to Play Services APIs to OEMs, developers and competitors, and not restrict an app developer’s ability to distribute their apps through side-loading. These two directions were also set aside by the NCLAT, which said these four directions were “unsustainable.”

Google had argued that the CCI’s order suffered from “confirmation bias” and was too similar to a verdict by the European Commission in 2018. The company had also argued that Google’s dominance in the smartphone market does not prove that it was abusing its power.

The CCI had ordered Google to not force smartphone makers to bundle so many Google apps on their handsets by default. It had also asked the firm to give users the ability to remove Google apps, use third-party billing options on the Play Store, and change their search engine, if they so desire.

Google, which appealed against the order, agreed to make several changes to its business practices nonetheless. The company said it will allow smartphone vendors in India to license individual apps for pre-installation on their Android-powered devices. Consumers will also have the ability to change search engine and use third-party billing options for apps and game purchases on Play Store, the company said.