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US watchdog POKES STICK at Google's Android over rival-blocking allegations

FTC meets with company officials – report

By Gavin Clarke

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Google's alleged blocking of rivals' apps and services on its Android phones and tablets has reportedly led to unwanted scrutiny from US regulators.

Officials at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have apparently been poking around the ad giant’s mobile OS business.

Representatives from the watchdog have – according to a Bloomberg report – met with Google bods over claims that the ad-flinger gives priority to its own apps and services on Android devices, while restricting others.

It's understood that the FTC has been leading the enquiries, following a decision with the US Justice Department. At this stage, the investigation is said to be preliminary, rather than formal – and no court case has been brought.

The probe may all come to nothing. But it's worth noting that the US regulators’ expression of interest comes after the European Union’s investigation of Google's Android biz, which was kicked off following complaints from Microsoft, Expedia and Nokia.

European antitrust officials have also challenged Google’s dominance of the search market in the 28-member-state bloc.

Earlier this year, the EU concluded in a preliminary finding that Google had abused its market position. The competition wing of Brussels has been gathering more evidence with a view to levying a fine against the ad giant.

US regulators closed their own investigations of Google on devices, ads and search two years ago, after Google agreed to change its business practices.

Also, Google pledged to open up access to patents on technologies needed to make mobile devices that it had gobbled up following the $12.5bn Motorola Mobility deal.

Google owns more than half of the US smartphone market by platform: Andorid stands at 52 per cent, with Apple second on 43 per cent, according to comCcore. Worldwide, Android has 82 per cent market share by operating system share with iOS sitting in second, a long way behind on 14.6 per cent, Gartner figures suggest.

It’s not illegal to be a dominant supplier or monopoly supplier under US legislation, but it is against the law to abuse that position.

Microsoft was dragged through years of investigation and trial for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows distributions handed to PC makers, a move that killed the Netscape browser but ultimately produced Mozilla's Firefox.

Antitrust officials at the European Commission also took Microsoft to task over browsers and Windows, in its case for bundling Windows Media Player with Windows and for excluding rivals from Windows Server APIs. ®

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