Google under scrutiny over its tight grip on Android apps

Europe's competition regulator is zeroing in on whether Google prevented handset makers and carriers from choosing which apps are pre-installed on Android phones.

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Europe competition regulator Margrethe Vestager: "Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers."

Image: European Commission

Europe's competition regulator says she's looking into whether Google's agreements with phone makers and operators prevented customers discovering new apps.

European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said on Monday in Amsterdam that she is "looking closely" at deals Google made with phone makers and operators that use Android, and is concerned that Google may have tried to shield itself from competition.

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Vestager said consumers want phones to work out of the box and expect phone makers or carriers to ensure basic apps, such as search, are preloaded. However, the commission has concerns that carriers and makers have not able to select which apps were pre-installed.

"Our concern is that, by requiring phone makers and operators to pre-load a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers," Vestager said.

The reason the commission is investigating Google is that it doesn't want big companies holding back innovation by protecting themselves from rivals, she said.

Her comments come amid reports that the European Commission is preparing to open a formal case against Google over its Android deals, which would add to a separate charge for promoting its own shopping search products over rivals.

The commission opened its Android investigation this time last year, focusing on whether Google harmed competition by requiring handset makers to pre-install Google apps, whether it illegally bundled Google services on Android, and whether it prevented firms from developing modified versions of Android.

The Financial Times on Friday reported that Vestager may announce a statement of objections this week concerning Android.

However, Vestager said today that the EC's investigation into Google and another probe into Amazon are "still going on".

"So I can't yet say if either of them has broken the rules," she said.

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