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Google (sort of) loses in Indian antitrust appeal

$161 million slap-on-the-wrist fine stands, but major restrictions are eased

Updated Google's appeal to an Indian tribunal regarding alleged abuse of the Chocolate Factory's dominant position in the Android market resulted in the removal of some antitrust directives, but brought no relief from a $161 million fine.

That's about six hours worth of Google's annual revenue.

India's National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) yesterday said it would uphold six of ten orders issued by the nation's Competition Commission (CCI). "The Appellant are thus not entitled for any other relief except for setting aside the above four directions," states [PDF] the NCLAT order.

In October 2022, CCI found Google guilty of abusing its dominant position and its operation of the Play store.

At the time, the CCI said Google worked to maintain its dominance in five markets – mobile device operating systems, app stores accessible from within Android, web search services, non-OS-specific mobile web browsers, and online video hosting platforms – through tools including the Mobile Application Distribution Agreement (MADA) that required Android licensees to include Google's apps.

The commission also decided that Google's monopoly extended to the Play store, which requires use of Google's payment systems, Google was ordered to remove restrictions it placed on device manufacturers – such as those related to pre-installation of apps.

Google appealed the decision, which NCLAT denied. The issue was taken to the Supreme Court, citing the fact that 50 instances within the ruling were apparently copied and pasted from a European ruling for similar charges. That appeal was also denied.

In addition to the copy/paste scenario indicating the decision was biased and not evaluated on its own merits, Google argued that it does not prevent OEMs from pre-installing competing apps, and that market dominance did not translate to abuse of its position.

The removal of four of the court's directives means Google does not have to allow hosting of third-party app stores inside the Play store. It can restrict the practice of "side-loading" – installing apps in ways other than an app store. It's also allowed to prevent the uninstalling of pre-installed apps, and can deny competitors access to the Play services APIs.

This looks like a decision that will be welcomed by the ads and search giant. While it's been found to be a monopolist – and an abuser of that position – it's held on to some of the tools that got it there. ®

Update on March 30, 2023

Google has been in touch to comment: "We are grateful for the opportunity given by the NCLAT to make our case. We are reviewing the order and evaluating our legal options."

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