Google Faces New Antitrust Troubles With a Wary E.U.

Google is facing a new antitrust complaint in Europe, this time over its software for mobile devices, as regulators on this side of the Atlantic continue their scrutiny of the U.S. tech giant.
The disclosure comes as Google takes the final steps aimed at resolving European Union charges that it abused its dominance of the Internet search field, the European Union’s competition commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, said in an interview Monday.
It also comes as the U.S. Treasury secretary, Jacob J. Lew, met with the Union’s officials in Brussels in part to discuss a free-trade agreement. Antitrust issues are not expected to be part of those talks, but European regulators have historically taken a harder line on technology companies than their American counterparts.
In the interview, Mr. Almunia said officials had been examining Google’s Android operating system independently of its two-year inquiry into the Internet search field, but he refused to comment on the new complaint.
Mr. Almunia did say that he was receiving proposals by Google this week to clear up concerns about its search practices that he hoped would make it easier for Internet users to identify when Google was promoting its own services rather than those of competitors who might offer better results.
Those proposals also were expected to involve marking services promoted by Google and to give any providers of online content greater leverage when Google wants to use their material.
In settling similar charges with U.S. regulators last year, Google was not required to make such concessions.
A Google spokesman, Al Verney, would not discuss the new complaint or the comments by Mr. Almunia about the search case specifically, saying only that the company continued “to work cooperatively” with the commission.
The new complaint was filed by Fairsearch Europe, a group of Google’s competitors, including the mobile phone maker Nokia, the software titan Microsoft and others, like Oracle. The complaint accuses Google of using Android “as a deceptive way to build advantages for key Google apps in 70 percent of the smartphones shipped today,” said Thomas Vinje, the lead lawyer for Fairsearch Europe, referring to Android’s market share in the smartphone market.
“Google’s goal is to dominate consumers’ Internet experience and consumer data as usage shifts from desktop to mobile,” said Mr. Vinje. “We are asking the commission to move quickly and decisively to protect competition and innovation in this critical market.”
The concerns about Android are focused on the way Google might be requiring exclusive terms for the placement of certain applications, or programs that mobile users can download onto their phones.
For example, phone makers that agree to take Android — and that also want other must-have Google applications like YouTube — face contractual requirements to place those applications and other Google-branded applications in a prominent position on the mobile device desktop, according to Mr. Vinje.
He said the new complaint represented a potentially far greater challenge to Google at a time when mobile devices were becoming the primary way that users gain access to information.
In the interview, Mr. Almunia focused his comments on the commission’s inquiry into the Internet search sector.
In order to reach a settlement, Google needed to offer the commission a solution where choices between Google-branded search results, and those of its competitors, were clearly visible within the search engine both on desktop computers and on mobile devices, he said.
“I don’t know if you should call it labeling, or whatever, but they need to distinguish,” Mr. Almunia said, describing how Google needed to differentiate between its own services and those of its competitors.
 
By James Kanter
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