IT'S OFFICIAL: EUROPE FILES ANTITRUST COMPLAINT AGAINST GOOGLE

Eric schmidt google chairmanAxel Schmidt/Getty ImagesEric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent company Alphabet.

The European Commission has filed a formal antitrust complaint against Google over its mobile operating system Android.

The press release announcing the complaint is available here. Here’s a fact sheet. This is a developing story. Refresh for updates.

The Commission is accusing Google of abusing its dominant position to promote its mobile apps over those of its competitors.

“Google [has] pursued an overall strategy on mobile to protect and expand its dominant position,” European competition chief Margarethe Vestager said in a press conference on Wednesday morning.

“Google has abused its dominant position.” This has, Vestager alleges, “harmed consumers by stifling competition and harming innovation.”

Via the press release, the Commission’s three key complaints with Android are that Google is:

  • “requiring manufacturers to pre-install Google Search and Google’s Chrome browser and requiring them to set Google Search as default search service on their devices, as a condition to licence certain Google proprietary apps;
  • “preventing manufacturers from selling smart mobile devices running on competing operating systems based on the Android open source code;
  • “giving financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-install Google Search on their devices.”

Google was not immediately available for comment. It has previously vehemently denied that it engages in anti-competitive behaviour.

In a blog post published Wednesday shortly after the Commission’s complaint was made public, Google SVP and general counsel Kent Walker wrote: “We also believe that our business model keeps manufacturers’ costs low and their flexibility high, while giving consumers unprecedented control of their mobile devices.”

The European Commission launched its probe in April 2015. If found guilty, Google could be fined $7.4 billion (£5.2 billion, or €6.5 billion) or 10% of 2015 revenues, Reuters previously reported.

Google has 12 weeks — three months — to formally respond.

Margarethe Vestager, the Commission’s antitrust chief, said on Monday the focus is on contracts that have smartphones with Google apps pre-installed: “Our concern is that by requiring phone makers and operators to pre-load a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers.”

The Commission has also previously charged Google over search results, which — the Commission alleges — favours Google’s shopping service over its competitor.

Google lets smartphone manufacturers use its Android operating system for free, and makes it money by monetising its apps (like YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Search, and so on) that come bundled with it, typically via adverts. If found guilty of anti-competitive practices, Google could be forced to change how its app distribution strategy — damaging its revenue streams.

More to follow…

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