Google warns Android growth in India will stall due to antitrust order

NEW DELHI :The growth of Google’s Android ecosystem is on the brink of stalling in India due to an antitrust order that asks the company to change how it markets the platform, the U.S. company has said in a Supreme Court challenge seen by Reuters.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) in October fined Alphabet Inc-owned Google $161 million for exploiting its dominant position in Android, which powers 97 per cent of smartphones in India, and asked it to change restrictions imposed on smartphone makers related to pre-installing apps.

Google has so far said the CCI decision will force it to change its long-standing business model, but its Indian Supreme Court filing for the first time quantifies the impact and details the changes the company will need to make.

Google will need to modify its existing contracts, introduce new license agreements and alter its existing arrangements with more than 1,100 device manufacturers and thousands of app developers, it says.

“Tremendous advancement in growth of an ecosystem of device manufacturers, app developers and users is at the verge of coming to a halt because of the remedial directions,” stated Google’s filing, which is not public.

“Google will be required to make far-reaching changes to the Android mobile platform which has been in place for the last 14-15 years.”

A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

Google has been concerned about the Indian decision as the remedies ordered are seen as more sweeping than the European Commission’s landmark 2018 ruling for imposing unlawful restrictions on Android mobile device makers. Google has challenged the record $4.3 billion fine in that case.

Google licenses its Android system to smartphone makers, but critics say it imposes restrictions like mandatory pre-installation of its own apps that are anti-competitive. The company argues such agreements help keep Android free.

The CCI in October ordered Google to not prohibit un-installing of its apps by Android phone users in India – currently, one can’t delete apps such as Google Maps or YouTube from their Android phones when they come pre-installed.

The CCI also said Google’s licensing of its Play Store “shall not be linked with the requirement of pre-installing” Google search services, the Chrome browser, YouTube or any other Google applications.

“No other jurisdiction has ever asked for such far-reaching changes based on similar conduct,” Google said in its court submissions.

The company has asked the Supreme Court to put on hold the remedial measures ordered by the CCI, which kick in from Jan. 19, court documents dated Jan. 7 showed. The case will likely be heard in the coming days.

Google has also alleged in its legal filings that the CCI’s investigation unit copied parts of a European 2018 ruling against the U.S. firm, Reuters has reported. The CCI and the European Commission have not responded to those allegations.