Technology

Google’s Android Facing US Antitrust Probe

Technology conglomerate Google is under investigation regarding blocking of competitors’ access to its Android mobile-operating system, according to knowledgeable sources who spoke to Bloomberg this week.

The sources note that the Federal Trade Commission coordinated with the Justice Department to head up a probe into Google’s Android operations. They also pointed out that FTC officials have met with a number of representatives from other tech firms who claim Google unfairly gives priority to its own services on the Android platform.

It should be noted that the inquiry has just begun, and the FTC may eventually decide to not move forward with a case against the firm. That said, news of the new investigation makes it clear the FTC is looking closely at Google again, just two years after it closed a separate investigation into Google’s Internet search business with no action.

Analysts note that the FTC’s handling of the prior investigation left some tech companies disappointed with the agency’s resolve to act against such a dominant market player.

Neither the FTC nor Google responded to a request for comment on this matter.

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More on FTC investigation of Android and Google

The Android operating system was used in 59% of U.S. smartphones in the second quarter, while Apple’s iOS represented 38% and Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS was third with 2.35%, according to International Data Corp. .

Of note, the EU has also begun its own investigation into Google’s Android platform. The EU financial regulator has received numerous complaints about Google, including from a group representing Microsoft Corp., Expedia Inc. and Nokia Oyj. The degree of cooperation between EU and U.S. antitrust investigators is not known.

The Android mobile platform includes a number of Google products, including search and maps, in a single bundle. According to Harry First, a law professor at NYU, the practice of bundling products and services together violates antitrust laws if a company dominates the market for a product, and then forces the customer to buy a complementary product or service. However, First pointed out that there’s probably no violation if consumers can easily go to other manufacturers to avoid the bundled product.

“The question for Android is do they really have sufficient market power, particularly in a world where there are other mobile-phone operating systems?”  First said.