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Antitrust probe in India finds Google abused the local smartphone market

Google acted in an anticompetitive way in India, the country's antitrust regulator determined, with the search giant allegedly using its "huge financial muscle" to force its apps to be preinstalled onto Android devices to enable access to the Google Play store.

In 2019, a complaint was made to the Competition Commission of India by two antitrust research associates and a law student, triggering a probe by the regulator into Google's practices. Two years later, a 750-page report has determined that Google is in the wrong.

According to the report, seen by Reuters, Google made it hard for device vendors to use alternate versions of Android, and used its clout to coerce them into preinstalling its apps on their devices.

The regulator deemed Google's actions "amounts to imposition of unfair condition the device manufacturers," violating India's competition law. Play Store policies were also "one-sided, ambiguous, vague, biased, and arbitrary."

In turn, Google reduced "the ability and incentive of device manufacturers to develop and sell devices operating on alternative versions of Android."

Apple was involved alongside Amazon, Samsung, and 59 other entities that responded to questions in the investigation. Google submitted at least 24 responses.

Google said in a statement it looks forward to working with the CCO to "demonstrate how Android has led to more competition and innovation, not less."

The report still has to be reviewed by senior CCI officials, a person familiar with it states, with Google also set to be given the opportunity to defend itself before the final order is issued by the regulator. Financial penalties could come into play depending on the final order itself, though Google would still be able to challenge any orders via the country's courts.

The report follows days after South Korea fined Google approximately $177 million for leveraging its dominant position, to cap the number of forks of Android, and encouraging the installation of its apps.

According to Counterpoint Research, Android is used on approximately 98% of India's 520 million smartphones. Despite the relatively small coverage of the market, Apple has itself become the target for an antitrust complaint in the country, specifically covering in-app payment policies.