Google, already under growing scrutiny from business practice regulators in several countries, may be under fresh scrutiny at home as well.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice are said to be investigating complaints that the company is unfairly preventing rivals from installing their software on Google’s Android mobile operating system.
Business Insider reported Sept. 25 that FTC officials have begun meeting with representatives from multiple companies who say Google’s practice of requiring Android smartphone vendors to install Google’s software on their phones is unfair and anti-competitive. According to the companies, Google’s bundling requirement makes it all but impossible for others to get their software preinstalled on Android smartphones.
The inquiry is still in its preliminary stages, and the FTC may yet decide not to investigate Google, Business Insider, said quoting two unnamed sources that it said are close to the matter.
But if the report is accurate and the FTC does open an investigation, Google will have one more major regulatory headache with which to contend.
The company is already under intense antitrust scrutiny in the European Union. The EU’s Competition Commission recently launched a formal inquiry against Google over complaints that it is abusing its dominance in the search engine market to pitch its own services over that of others. The EU’s Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has said that she is prepared to widen the investigation if the present charges against Google turn out to be valid.
Google faces similar investigations in India, Russia, Brazil, Canada and Argentina. In each case, regulators are investigating complaints, mostly from local rivals, that Google is abusing its market dominance to stifle competition.
Google predictably has denied the allegations and insists that its actions are not anti-competitive. In doing so, the company appears to have signed itself up for what could be protracted legal battles in many of the countries that are investigating it.
If the FTC’s alleged willingness to hear complaints against Google turns out to be true, it would mean that an issue that Google had doubtless hoped would be behind it is back to haunt the company again.
The FTC has previously investigated Google over similar charges, but the company has so far managed to avoid a federal lawsuit. After a 19-month-long investigation, the FTC’s commissioners in January 2013 announced they were dropping all charges against the company in exchange for Google agreeing to voluntarily change some of its business practices.
In March of this year, the Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell when it managed to obtain a 160-page FTC document showing that several FTC officials had actually wanted to sue Google in 2013 because of deep concerns over its practices.
The document, accidentally released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Journal, showed that several FTC officials felt that Google’s practices at the time had the potential to cause real economic harm to rivals.
It’s unclear whether any of the complaints against Google that the FTC is reportedly investigating are substantially different from the ones it investigated earlier. So there is no telling how or even whether the agency will decide to move against Google at this time.
Google did not respond immediately to a request for comment.