Commentary

Will Android Force Google Into Fresh U.S. Antitrust Suit?

Poor Google.

After struggling for years to make right with antitrust authorities around the world, the search giant is reportedly facing fresh scrutiny here at home. And, as with more recent cases, the issue is a distinctly mobile one.

According to reports, U.S. antitrust officials suspect that the search giant stifled rivals’ access to its Android mobile-operating system.

“The Federal Trade Commission reached an agreement with the Justice Department to spearhead an investigation of Google’s Android business,” Bloomberg Businessweek says, citing sources.

The would-be investigation comes just months after the European Commission decided to open a formal investigation into Google’s business practices, and specifically its bundling of apps like YouTube and Chrome on Android.

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At the moment, we don’t know whether U.S. regulators want to get Google on similar grounds, or if European and U.S. officials are working together.

Still, the charges must seem very similar to students of modern tech giants and their occasional run-ins with the law.

Beginning in the late '90s, the U.S. government went after Microsoft on the grounds that it was forcing PC makers to promote its Internet Explorer Web browser on machines shipped with Windows. (Microsoft ultimately settled the case in early 2001, but not before it did immense damage to the company’s brand.)

More recently, Google fought the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that its search business was rigged in its favor -- a case it settled in 2013.

That Google is back in the hot seat, stateside, shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Earlier this year, Reuters reported that rivals were begging the Justice Department to investigate allegations that Google was using Android to get an edge in the ad business.

Google can’t afford to lose this fight. Android is the company’s key to mobile, today’s dominant channel for searching, socializing, and just about every other popular consumer pastime.    

Without Android -- or with some spayed version of the operating system -- Google’s fate would be sealed.

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