Google faces EU competition complaint over Android apps

Google is facing another competition complaint in Europe, this time for allegedly burying third-party app stores.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Aptoide, a Portugal-based third-party Android app store, has filed a complaint with European Commission competition watchdog, claiming Google is unfairly muscling app store rivals out of the market.

Among the issues listed in Apotoide's complaint is that Google has made it more difficult to install apps on Android devices from sources other than Google Play, co-founder and CEO Paulo Trezentos told ZDNet's sister site CNET.

"Google has spent the last two years undermining Aptoide and other App Stores by changing the rules," Trezentos said in a blog post.

Aptoide claims Google has suspended rival app stores from Google Play and introduced "unnecessary complexity" in the process of installing apps downloaded outside of Google Play. (Android users can install apps from third-party app stores or the web by checking 'Unknown Sources' in Android's security settings interface.)

Another complaint involves Google's removal of key services from the Android Open Source Project, which were subsequently included in its own proprietary product, known as Google Mobile Services.

Ars Technica highlighted last year the list of services under this umbrella has grown over time, with Google suspending further development of features in services that end up in AOSP while developing new features in the Play Store. These include Google's Calendar, Keyboard, Camera, and Maps, among others.

Finally, Aptoide also claims the Chrome browser blocks access to third-party app stores.

Google had not responded to request for comment at the time of writing.

The office of Europe's competition commissioner confirmed to ZDNet that it has received the complaint, but whether it actually launches an investigation over the allegations is another matter.

However, Google may still be facing a probe over Android. Announcing an antitrust settlement with Google earlier this year — an arrangement involving search which is still yet to be finalised — Europe's competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia said he was also looking into allegations relating to Android.

Last year FairSearch, an organisation whose members include Nokia, Microsoft, Oracle and others, filed an EU complaint accusing Google of predatory pricing. It alleged Google was distributing Android below-cost distribution, making it difficult for rivals to recoup their own investments in mobile software.

In assessing whether a company has abused Europe's competition law, the EC notes that "a dominant company has a special responsibility to ensure that its conduct does not distort competition". Android's market share of roughly 70 percent would appear to qualify it as a dominant company in the smartphone OS space.

Examples of behaviour by a dominant player that can amount to infringement of European competition law include "requiring that buyers purchase all units of a particular product only from the dominant company (exclusive purchasing); setting prices at a loss-making level (predation); refusing to supply input indispensable for competition in an ancillary market; charging excessive prices," according to the EC.

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