The wagons are circling around Google. Under the FairSearch.org banner, Expedia, Microsoft, Nokia, Oracle, TripAdvisor and a host of others have filed a complaint with the European Commission laying out the search engine giant's alleged anti-competitive strategy to "dominate the mobile marketplace and cement its control over consumer Internet data for online advertising as usage shifts to mobile."
At the core of the argument is the success of Google Android, which is the dominant smartphone. According to Strategy Analytics, Android is running on 70 percent of smartphones shipped at the end of 2012. And eMarketer reports that Google dominates mobile search advertising with 96% of the market. The FairSearch.org complaint accuses Google of using deceptive conduct to lockout competition in mobile.
"Google is using its Android mobile operating system as a 'Trojan Horse' to deceive partners, monopolize the mobile marketplace, and control consumer data," said Thomas Vinje, Brussels-based counsel to the FairSearch coalition. "We are asking the Commission to move quickly and decisively to protect competition and innovation in this critical market. Failure to act will only embolden Google to repeat its desktop abuses of dominance as consumers increasingly turn to a mobile platform dominated by Google's Android operating system."
Google Anti-Trust Complaint Specifics
FairSearch reasons that Google gained dominance in the mobile operating system market by making Android free. But in reality, the coalition's complaint alleges, Android phone-makers who want to include must-have Google apps such as Maps, YouTube or Play are required to pre-load an entire suite of Google mobile services and to give them prominent default placement on the phones. This disadvantages other providers, and puts Google's Android in control of consumer data on a majority of smartphones shipped today.
What's more, Google's predatory distribution of Android at below-cost makes it difficult for other providers of operating systems to recoup investments in competing with Google's dominant mobile platform, the complaint says.
"European consumers deserve a rigorous investigation of Google's mobile practices, and real protections against further abuses by Google," said Vinje. "Given Google's track record of ignoring the law, mobile Internet users should be very concerned."
Ganging Up on Google
The FairSearch complaint comes at a crucial time in the Internet's development, with users increasingly shifting their use from desktop to mobile platforms. Mobile Internet usage is expected to overtake desktop usage as soon as 2014, according to MindCommerce.
The European Commission is in the process of considering how to remedy concerns that Google may be abusing its dominance in desktop search advertising, in particular Google's search bias that favors its own services in search results. And in April, six European data protection authorities began coordinating efforts to force Google to comply with EU privacy laws they say Google violated by consolidating its privacy policies. Google paid a record fine to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in August 2012 to settle charges it gave misleading privacy promises to Safari Internet browser users.
"Android is already a part of the EU antitrust investigation. This complaint is partly a PR move and also designed to put additional, public pressure on European competition authorities to drive a harder bargain with Google," Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, told us. "The FTC largely 'let Google off' and so Fairsearch and other Google critics are looking to Europe to force changes in the way the company operates."