Google Android Antitrust Concern in South Korea

NNH and Daum allege Google is blocking their mobile-search applications from running on its Android phones in South Korea, where the two search giants pace the market.

South Korean search powers NHN and Daum Communications have lodged complaints against Google with the country's Fair Trade Commission for blocking local phone carriers and phone makers from adding their search applications to handsets and tablets running Google's Android operating system.

The move is the latest complaint against Google for the way it wields its open-source operating system. Google has the final say on how companies can tweak the Android code and even with whom they may partner, but maintains that its platform is still largely open for modification.

Google's control over Android phones apparently extends to search applications. According to NNH, by way of Bloomberg, Google has banned South Korean phone manufacturers from including search applications made by other companies. NNH added that Google has delayed certifying the use of its software for handset makers that violated the condition.

Daum claimed it learned about Google's practices while trying to have its applications installed and has evidence to prove its claims.

South Korea's FTC declined to comment. A Google spokesperson said the company has not yet been contacted by the Korean Fair Trade Commission "but will work with them to address any questions they may have."

"Android is an open platform, and carrier and OEM partners are free to decide which applications and services to include on their Android phones," Google told eWEEK April 15.

That statement contradicts NNH and Daum's claims, making the case an interesting one to watch. Google certainly would have the motivation to block search applications on Android phones to protect its mobile-search market share abroad.

Google's search share is particularly low in South Korea, where NNH and Daum together make up 90 percent of desktop Web searches.

Yet blocking applications on Android phones would absolutely be antithetical to the open-source ethos Google so fervently espouses in public.

When BusinessWeek Bloomberg profiled the increased control Google is exerting on Android-including an alleged report that Google tried to halt Verizon from selling Android phones installed with Bing search-Rubin himself responded in a blog post arguing that the platform will continue to be open for modification.

"Our approach remains unchanged: There are no lockdowns or restrictions against customizing UIs," Rubin wrote April 6. "There are not, and never have been, any efforts to standardize the platform on any single chipset architecture."

The situation in South Korea underscores the increasing pressures mounting against Google and Android, which is quickly becoming the world's most pervasive mobile platform.

Google accounted for 33 percent market share through March to lead the U.S., and is expected to command almost 50 percent worldwide over the next few years.

Android, which is also being attacked for copyright infringement by Oracle, is only one faction of Google's many businesses to weather antitrust scrutiny. The Federal Trade Commission is mulling a broad antitrust investigation of the company for its search and ad practices.