Japan to probe Google over 'suspicion' that antitrust laws are being broken

Arrives at the same conclusion about the nexus of Android and search as pretty much everyone else

Updated Japan’s Fair Trade Commission has become the latest competition regulator to decide Google is worthy of an investigation for monopolistic practices.

"There is suspicion that through these steps it is excluding competitors' business activity and restricting its business partners' business activity in the search services market," a JFTC official reportedly told a press conference.

The Commission yesterday announced it has “decided to seek information and comments from third parties” regarding two matters, namely

  1. Entering into license agreements with Android mobile device manufacturers (hereinafter referred to as "OEMs") under which Google makes them install its applications, such as a search application named "Google Search" and a web browser application named "Google Chrome", together with its application store named "Google Play", and designates where to place icons, etc. of such applications on screens of the devices, and;
  2. Entering into agreements with OEMs, etc. under which Google shares its revenue from its search advertising service with them on conditions including that they do not pre-install competitors' search application.

The Commission took pains to point out that it hasn’t reached any conclusions as to whether Japan’s Antimonopoly Act has been breached. It’s just asking around to see if anyone else wants to comment.

It won’t have to go far to find voices who think Google doesn’t play fair. Just across the water, South Korea has been worried by Google’s pressure tactics apparently applied to handset-makers since 2011, and has introduced world-first laws requiring the ads and search giant to open its Play store to third-party payments. India recently won an antitrust case against Google over related Android practices.

And in the USA a government case against Google has unearthed evidence that Google pays Apple up to $18 billion a year to retain a presence for its search service on iDevices. That’s a sum no rival search engine can easily match – not even Microsoft.

Once a consumer electronics powerhouse, Japan has seen even mighty local companies like Sony fail to make a dent on the Android handset market, so has local evidence of how tough it is to succeed in the current environment. Which may lead readers to wonder what took Japan to long to consider antitrust action against Google?

The answer is that Japan’s digital competition policy was delivered in June 2022 and this action against Google is the first time it has ever been implemented. Japanese regulators certainly don't think small.

The policy, titled “Towards the Active Promotion of Competition Policy in response to Socioeconomic Changes as represented by Digitalization - Coordination and Strengthening of Advocacy and Enforcement” [PDF] called for the Commission to strengthen its information-gathering capacities so it could step up its activities.

With its first investigation under way, those capacities will now be tested by an army of Google lawyers, who are admittedly somewhat busy at the moment. ®

Updated to add:

A Google spokesperson has been in touch to say: "Android is an open source platform that has enabled a diversity in OEMs and partners. Its openness and flexibility ensure that users always have a choice to customize their devices to suit their needs, including the way they browse and search the internet, or download apps.

"We have continued to work closely with government agencies to demonstrate how we are supporting the Android ecosystem and expanding user choice in Japan. We will continue to collaborate with the government and industry partners throughout this process."

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