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Italian monopoly watchdog asks Google to cough up a few euros for illegally blocking an Android Auto app

Web giant tells us it's considering its response to €100m fine demand

Google was tickled with a €100m fine by Italy’s monopoly watchdog on Thursday for unfairly holding back an Android app maker.

The Italian Competition Authority said Google “holds a dominant position” in the industry, given its curated Play Store that comes with Android, and that about three quarters of smartphones in the Euro nation run the operating system. As gatekeepers of this software bazaar, Google controls what apps are allowed, and what access third-party developers can have with its own apps or services. Not only that, but Google abuses this position and favors its own applications, breaking European law, the regulator said.

The fine is equivalent to about £86m or $121m. Google accountants must already be checking down the back of the couch to collect up loose change to pay it: its parent Alphabet banked $18bn (€15bn) in profit in the first quarter of 2021.

The watchdog decided to extract some coins from the Chocolate Factory after Google refused to allow Italian energy company Enel X Italia to port its JuicePass app, which shows vehicle charging spots and reservations at electric car-charging points, to the Android Auto car operating system. This goes against Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the authority said.

Google has consequently favored its own Google Maps app, which runs on Android Auto

“Google did not allow Enel X Italia to develop a version of its JuicePass app compatible with Android Auto, a specific Android feature that allows apps to be used while the user is driving in compliance with safety, as well as distraction reduction, requirements,” the Italian Competition Authority said in a statement.

“By refusing Enel X Italia interoperability with Android Auto, Google has unfairly limited the possibilities for end users to avail themselves of the Enel X Italia app when driving and recharging an electric vehicle."

The regulator then raised a crucial point: "Google has consequently favored its own Google Maps app, which runs on Android Auto and enables functional services for electric vehicle charging, currently limited to finding and getting directions to reach charging points, but which in the future could include other functionalities such as reservation and payment."

The regulator said it has also "ordered Google to make available to Enel X Italia, as well as to other app developers, tools for the programming of apps that are interoperable with Android Auto and will monitor the effective and correct implementation of the imposed obligations through an independent expert to whom Google must provide all cooperation and information requested."

Google said it may contest the fine. A spokesperson for the web giant told The Register: “We disagree with the authority's decision and we will review our options.

“The number one priority for Android Auto is to ensure apps can be used safely while driving. That's why we have strict guidelines on the types of apps which are currently supported and these are based on driver-distraction tests and regulatory and industry standards.

“Thousands of applications are already compatible with Android Auto, and our goal is to allow even more developers to make their apps available over time. For example, we have introduced templates for navigation, charging, and parking apps, open for any developer to use.”

Enel X Italia was unavailable for comment. ®

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