Google faces antitrust probe in India over dominance in Smart TV market: Reports

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Google, the US-based tech giant, is facing a new antitrust case in India in which it is alleged to have abused the position of its Android operating system in the smart television market, sources say.

The case is Google’s fourth major antitrust challenge in India, one of its main markets where it is also faced protests from local startups who united against Google’s call to implement certain policies and commission that they claim are harming their growth. Due to outbursts, Google has decided to postpone the decision to enforce a 30 percent cut on in-app purchases made in Google Play Store until 2022.

It also comes as Google faces fresh US antitrust concerns and a possible antitrust investigation in China that is likely to examine how it is allegedly using its Android mobile operating system supremacy to stifle competition. Google has denied any wrongdoing.

Ongoing Investigations

Since June, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has been investigating allegations that Google is engaging in anti-competitive practices by creating obstacles for companies that want to use or develop modified versions of Android for smart TVs, such as the operating system of Amazon Fire TV, according to the source.

In India, smart TVs, or WiFi-enabled TVs with streaming service apps such as Netflix and YouTube, have become increasingly popular.

Counterpoint Research data reveals that there were 8 million smart TV sets sold in India in 2019. Three out of five smart TVs sold in India are based on the Android system from Google, which also powers almost 99 percent of India’s half a billion user base of smartphones.

The latest case argues that Google’s agreements with companies like Xiaomi and TV manufacturer TCL India effectively prohibit them from using both the Android system and a modified version of it on various devices they develop.

For example, if a company sells smartphones based on Google’s Android, it cannot sell smart TVs running on competing platforms such as the Amazon Fire TV system, according to the case against Google.

And on the other hand, if the smart TV of a company uses the Fire operating system of Amazon, then that company is restricted from offering the popular Play Store of Google or the Google maps app on its smartphones.

The source confirmed that Google had been directed by the CCI to send its written replies to the allegations and that the company was seeking more time.

Earlier probes

The CCI fined Google $18.5 million for “search bias” in 2018, but an appeal from the company against that is pending. Last year, the CCI also began investigating Google for allegedly misusing its dominant role to decrease smartphone manufacturers’ ability to opt for alternative versions of its Android system.

The CCI began investigating a case, earlier this year, which alleged that Google is manipulating its market power to unfairly promote its mobile payment app in the region.

Filings and specifics of cases investigated by the CCI are not released publicly, unlike Indian court cases. If it sees merit in the complaints, the antitrust watchdog may order a broader investigation against Google, or throw out the case entirely.