European regulators training sights on Google's mobile software
By Foo Yun Chee and Alexei Oreskovic
BRUSSELS/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - European regulators are preparing what could be a stern challenge to Google Inc's (GOOGL.O: Quote) (GOOG.O: Quote) mobile software business in the coming months after a nearly four-year investigation into the company's Web search practices left rivals and European politicians dissatisfied.
Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said that with a new antitrust chief taking over in November, European regulators are laying the groundwork for a case centered on whether Google abuses the 80 percent market share of its Android mobile operating system to promote services from maps to search.
The Commission has stepped up inquiries just in recent weeks, sending companies questionnaires that seek far more details than previous queries on the matter in 2011 and 2013.
In one questionnaire seen by Reuters, respondents were asked whether there was a requirement set by Google, written or unwritten, that they not pre-install apps, products or services on mobile devices that compete with Google software like its search engine, app store and maps.
Companies must provide emails, faxes, letters, notes from phone calls and meetings, and presentations stretching as far back as 2007 related to such deals with Google, suggesting the European Commission wants to know if Google’s behavior has been long-term. Respondents have been given until early September to reply to more than 40 questions.
While any company is free to use the open-source Android as they choose, mobile handset makers that want to use the newest version must sign a contract that stipulates a minimum number of Google services be pre-installed on devices, according to a third source, a former Google executive with knowledge of the matter.
The impending Android inquiry adds to a growing list of regulatory challenges that complicate the Internet company's ambitions in a vital market. Europe accounted for more than $30 billion in digital advertising spending in 2013.
The European Commission is likely to start a formal probe into Android once it wraps up an investigation into whether Google ranks its own services higher than those of its rivals in search results, according to the two people with knowledge of the matter. Continued...