- Greg Sandoval/Sundar Pichai
- Google may be hit with a second major penalty from European regulators over antitrust.
- Google is accused of forcing smartphone makers to preinstall services such as Google Search on its Android operating system.
- The timing couldn’t be worse for Google given the growing global appetite to break up big tech – and the company may be forced to unbundle Android from its search business.
- This could be Google’s Microsoft monopoly moment.
Google is staring down the barrel of its own Microsoft moment.
The search giant may be hit with another massive fine from the European Union, this time in an antitrust case involving its popular Android operating system.
According to reports in the Financial Times and Politico, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager will announce her decision on the case in July. The Financial Times reports that the finding will be negative, meaning Google faces paying a substantial fine.
Politico reported that the fine could be larger than the €2.4 billion ($2.8 billion/£2.1 billion) Google was ordered to cough up to the EU this time last year in a separate antitrust case.
- REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
But the case could have bigger implications than a fine.
European regulators have been investigating Google on suspicion of using Android to skew the market against competitors. They have cited tactics such as requiring smartphone manufacturers to preinstall Google Search and the Google Chrome browser as a condition for accessing the Google Play app store.
The European Commission says these demands gave Google an advantage and hampered user choice. Android is the dominant mobile software globally.
Google declined to comment but pointed to a company blog post from 2016, in which it argued that Android had actually created more competition.
- Mark Blinch/Reuters
The case brings back memories of Microsoft’s situation some 20 years ago.
In 1998, Microsoft had the most popular operating system in the world with Windows. It was also bundling the Internet Explorer browser and its Media Player with the operating system.
That, according to the EU and the US government, deprived users of choice, and the EU eventually forced Microsoft to release a version of Windows without Media Player. According to The New York Times, the US government’s lawsuits against Microsoft helped a younger competitor rise up in search: Google.
- Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters
Today, Google and its big technology peers – Facebook, Amazon, and Apple – have never faced a greater threat of breakup.
Part of this is thanks to Europe’s aggressive targeting of Silicon Valley, which may prompt US regulators to act too and target Google in the same way they broke up AT&T in the 1980s.
There is a growing awareness of the ways in which big technology companies have grown horizontally and spread into multiple areas, redefining traditional thinking about what constitutes a monopoly. Should the EU win this fight, it may eventually result in Google having to unbundle Android from search.
In the meantime, the search giant is vigorously defending itself to avoid such an outcome. It is still contesting last year’s fine, which centers on the way it displays search results for shopping, and it is facing a third case, in which it is accused of using AdSense to block rivals in online advertising.