Regulators Widen Investigation Into Google’s Pre-Loaded Android Apps

Image courtesy of Scott Akerman

A week after European regulators announced an investigation into Google’s requirements that Android-based devices come pre-loaded with Google apps, a similar stateside probe is finally getting off the ground. 

The Federal Trade Commission began looking into questions surrounding the Google mobile operating system last year, and now the Wall Street Journal reports that the agency has met with several companies in recent months to get to the bottom of concerns that Google abuses its dominance in the smartphone arena through exclusive contracts with device makers and service providers.

The FTC, which opened a probe into the company’s practices after receiving complaints from app developers and tech firms related to Google’s tendency to use its heavy weight status to get exclusive deals, has reportedly requested data from at least two companies in the industry related to contracts.

The sources tell the WSJ that it’s too early to say whether or not the investigation could lead to legal action against Google.

The FTC and Google both declined to provide the WSJ with comment on the investigation.

News of the increased scrutiny into Google’s practices comes after EU officials opened their own investigation and expressed concerns that Google’s exclusive contracts — that sometimes require device makers to pre-load up to 11 Google apps — may be putting up roadblocks that reduce the odds of competing, possibly better and more innovative, software from reaching consumers.

Google said at the time that “anyone can use Android with or without Google applications. Hardware manufacturers and carriers can decide how to use Android and consumers have the last word about which apps they want to use.”

If the Commission ultimately rules against Google, it could mean billions in penalties for the online giant.

However, the WSJ points out that stateside regulators could come to different conclusions with their investigation.

Not only do laws differ between the regulators, but Android has a much greater market share in Europe than in the U.S.: Europe’s competition laws allow for stiffer action against companies, while the FTC is encouraged to give credit to companies if their actions had legitimate business justifications.

Additionally, the WSJ reports that Android runs more than 70% of the smartphones in court of the five largest EU countries, while it runs only 59% in the U.S.

FTC Extends Probe Into Google’s Android [The Wall Street Journal]

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