Google's Android facing antitrust scrutiny

Google's Android facing antitrust scrutiny
© Getty Images

Google could once again be facing an antitrust probe from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after settling separate charges back in 2013.

Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, reports the trade commission is investigating the tech giant’s Android operating system for smartphones, which has a majority of the U.S. market. The report notes regulators have met with other tech companies who allege Google unfairly gives priority to its own services on the Android operating system.

“FTC investigations are non-public and we do not comment on an investigation or the existence of an investigation,” an FTC spokesman said.

Google also declined to comment.  

The specific allegations are unclear, and Bloomberg notes the probe could end with no charges. But the FTC and Justice Department reached an agreement a few months back that would allow the FTC to take the lead, according to the report. 

Fairsearch, a coalition composed of companies like Microsoft, Nokia and others, welcomed reports of the FTC probe. 

"Google has used a range of anticompetitive tactics, carrying on a troubling pattern of conduct that has made it more difficult and expensive for fresh, innovative companies to reach the market," the group said in a statement. "The stakes are extremely high, because Google’s behavior impacts the entire mobile ecosystem, including map and location services, and app developers.”

Android holds about 59 percent of the U.S market, compared to 38 percent for Apple, according to 2015 statistics. Android’s share of the smartphone market is much larger around the world. 

Across the Atlantic, European regulators opened up a formal investigation into the Android operating system in April. Specifically, the European Commission notes that while Android is an open-source operating system, it has to be used with a number of other Google services, such as the company’s app store, Google Play, which require entering a contract with Google.  

The EU is investigating whether Google stifled market access by requiring phone manufacturers using Android to exclusively install Google’s own applications or by bundling certain Android applications with other Google apps. Those regulators are also looking at whether Google prevented smartphone manufacturers from using the open-source software to create competing or modified versions of Android. 

In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission settled charges with Google over the way the company negotiated patent licenses it owned for essential technology in smartphones and other devices. At the time, the company also agreed to tailor some search conduct. But the FTC, amid some disagreement, closed its antitrust investigation without charges into its search product.