Google Hit With Antitrust Complaint in EU by Aptoide

Aptoide alleges that Google unfairly makes it harder for smaller app stores to compete.

Google antitrust suit

Google is the focus of a new antitrust complaint filed by Portugal-based app store vendor Aptoide. The complaint comes on the heels of other existing antitrust matters plaguing the search giant in Europe.

Paulo Trezentos, the CEO of Aptoide, confirmed the June 16 filing of the complaint with the European Commission, the competition arm of the European Union, in an email exchange with eWEEK.

"With this action we hope that Google reconsiders some of the practices that are going on related with the Android platform," wrote Trezentos. "In Aptoide's complaint, these actions target specifically independent app stores, making it more difficult for the end user to install them and to the Android manufacturers to have different options regarding the app store to be pre-loaded in their devices."

The Aptoide complaint was first reported June 16 by The Wall Street Journal.

A copy of the complaint and a response from the agency have not yet been posted on the EU's Website.

"In its complaint, Aptoide claims that Google creates obstacles for users to install third-party app stores onto its Android platform, bundles services that are essential to its operating system with Google Play, and blocks access to Aptoide Websites in its Chrome Web browser," The Journal reported.

Aptoide calls itself "the largest independent Android app store," which "allows partners to set up and manage their own Android store," according to the company's Website. "As a partner, you can upload, test and approve your apps."

In 2011, two years after developing its app marketplace in 2009, Aptoide was incorporated as a spin-off of CM Software, an open-source company, according to the company.

In response to an email inquiry from eWEEK, a Google spokesperson had no direct comments about the Aptoide complaint to the EU. "Since Android’s introduction, greater competition in the smartphone market has given consumers more and better choices," the spokesperson said. "Both the U.S. FTC and Korean Fair Trade Commission have examined Google's agreements around Android in depth and concluded that there was no cause for legal concerns."

This is certainly not the first antitrust complaint targeting Google in the last few years. A pending settlement was announced in February 2014 to resolve an antitrust case that has lingered since November 2010 in Europe, where Google competitors had alleged that Google's search processes unfairly promoted Google's advertisers at the expense of competitors. The proposed settlement in that case, which still faces formal final approval by the EU and its regulatory arm, the European Commission (EC), includes concessions from Google on how it will display competitors' links through the Google search engine. The EU probe had been sought by Google competitors, including Microsoft, Expedia and British search services company Foundem.

The pending agreement calls for Google to change its display practices but not have to pay a fine that could have amounted to as much as $5 billion.

Several Google competitors continue to be unhappy with the settlement proposal; they argue that they are not being given the chance to give input on the deal. Under the terms of the apparent settlement with the EU, Google will more clearly identify its own paid ad content from its own customers when displaying search content to users and will display them with unique identifications and separate placement to make their presence clearer to users.

The settlement dance between the EU and Google in that case has been ongoing since at least early 2013, when it appeared that the two sides were close to a tentative deal. Similar rumors about settlements also surfaced in November 2013, but competitors, including Microsoft, Expedia and Foundem, often criticized the proposals that arose in the past, arguing that they still didn't go far enough to level the playing field for rivals.

Google has been under investigation in Europe since 2010 regarding its search engine, which holds more than 60 percent of the search market with Microsoft's Bing being a distant second. Competitors have claimed that Google works its search algorithms to favor its own products and results over those of others, giving it an unfair advantage in search and Web advertising.