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Indian Competition Commission launches antitrust probe into Google’s smart tellies

Pre-installation of Play Store and other apps on Smart TVs and Androids amounts to leveraging dominance, says watchdog

India’s Competition Commission has ordered an investigation into Google over the advertising giant’s use of the Android operating system in its smart televisions.

In a 24-page order [PDF] released yesterday, the Commission CCI stated it is “convinced that a case is made out for directing an investigation by the [Director General]”.

The Commission asserted that by forcing pre-installation of Google’s proprietary apps, like the Play Store, on all Android devices, Google has limited the development and sales of alternative Android versions. The company’s policies also prevent tellie-makers from manufacturing, developing and selling other devices that run on competing operating systems.

Furthermore, by requiring TV manufacturers to preinstall apps and restricting consumers from installing other software, Google creates an unfair market. The Commission also argued those polices amount to “leveraging of Google’s dominance in Play Store to protect the relevant markets such as online video hosting services offered by YouTube, etc.”

Sixty per cent of the eight million smart TVs sold in India in 2019 used Google’s Android operating system. Chinese consumer electronics outfit Xiaomi, which was named in the investigation as another smart tellie OEM, held 27 per cent of India’s smart TV market in Q1 2020.

Google sent The Register the following statement about India's actions:

The emerging smart TV sector in India is thriving, due in part to Google’s free licensing model and Android TV competes with numerous well-established TV OSs such as FireOS, Tizen, and WebOS. We are confident that our smart TV licensing practices are in compliance with all applicable competition laws.

The new probe means Google faces two ongoing antitrust cases in India. In November of 2020, the Commission opened an investigation regarding its bundling of Google Pay with Android.

Google also faces ongoing antitrust actions in the USA and a new probe from the European Union over its advertising business, while China is also threatening to have a crack at the web giant. ®

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