EC stepping up antitrust inquiry into Google, Android

The Commission's increased interest could signal a plan to start a formal investigation

The European Commission is stepping up its inquiry into Google's alleged anti-competitive behavior in the market for mobile software, making a formal investigation into the company's Android business more likely, according to a report.

In recent weeks, the Commission sent questionnaires to companies that use Android, seeking more details about how Google promotes its own services, according to a Reuters report.

The Commission has posed more than 40 questions about Android and is requiring companies to respond by early September. The request includes a reminder that a fine can be levied if information provided is incomplete or misleading, a source told IDG News Service.

Among the things it's seeking to find out is whether Google requires companies to agree to not pre-install apps, products or services on mobile devices that directly compete with Google services such as search, maps and its app store, according to Reuters.

Any information relating to such deals including letters, emails and notes from phone calls from as far back as 2007 should be shared with the Commission, the report said.

The Commission confirmed receiving an antitrust complaint about Android from the Portuguese firm Aptoide in June. A spokesman said in an email that its preliminary investigation concerning the Android ecosystem is ongoing.

"We continue to gather information. We are looking into whether there are undue restrictions to competition in this area," a spokesman said in the email, declining to comment on individual questionnaires.

Aptoide offers an independent Android App Stores ecosystem that allows partners to set up and manage their own Android store. The company alleged that Google has used its dominant position to prevent Aptoide from appearing on Google Play, limiting consumers' access to the alternative marketplace.

Aptoide could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

If the Commission starts a new antitrust investigation into Google this fall, it would be announced around the same time that a separate case, involving search, is expected to close.

Google has been under investigation by the Commission since November 2010, after competitors complained that Google favored its own services in search results while reducing the visibility of competing sites. Google has proposed to show three clearly labeled rival links for every query that results in links to Google's services to mitigate antitrust concerns, but some of these links will require the rivals to pay Google.

Google's settlement proposal was blasted by lead complainant Foundem earlier this month. The vertical search engine accused the Commission of adopting Google's proposal wholesale and not giving rivals a fair chance to respond. The Commission had been expected to accept the proposal but some reports hold that it may now revise the terms.

The Commission also received an antitrust complaint regarding YouTube and has said before that it will look into new complaints separately if they do not relate to the four competition concerns covered by ongoing proceedings.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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