Android case: marathon hearing on record fine against Google in EU court


For five days, the 6th Chamber of the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, chaired by President Anna Marcoulli, will hold an oral hearing this week to deal with the record fine of 4.3 billion euros that the EU Commission imposed in July 2018 imposed on Google. The dispute, which started in April 2013 with a cartel complaint from Allianz Fairsearch, is essentially about the mobile operating system Android and Google’s requirements for device manufacturers who use Android.

Camilla Kristensen, clerk at the EU court, opened the partially live streamed marathon hearing on Monday with general information on the dispute that has been going on for years. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager accuses Google and its parent company Alphabet of having abused a dominant position in the communications and information technology sector. The US group is said to have used Android to consolidate the dominant position of its search engine and to hinder third-party innovations.

Google Chef Sundar Pichai stressed in a blog post shortly after the EU decision that “Android created more choice, not less”. This is “good for the partners and for the consumers.” The decision ignores the fact that Android smarthpones mainly competed with Apple’s iPhones with iOS. Furthermore, the antitrust authorities have overlooked how much choice Android offers thousands of phone manufacturers and mobile network operators, as well as millions of app developers around the world. Google therefore filed an objection to the Commission’s decision within the deadline.

observer assumethat Google will pressurize the Commission primarily on its findings on the pre-installation of its search and browser apps. This debate is scheduled for Tuesday. Smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC couldn’t avoid Google’s Play Store, the commission found. By requiring the partners who applied for access to this app store to pre-install all Google apps, including the lucrative search engine and the Chrome browser, the group is restricting the options for competitors.

The Brussels government institution forced Google to stop this practice. The group is also no longer allowed to grant manufacturers any financial incentives if they only pre-install Google search. In addition, the commission cleared the way for the installation of alternative Android versions (“forks”) by mobile phone manufacturers.

Google is likely to hold against it that the apps would be bundled in order to bear the costs for the development and maintenance of its “open source” marketed operating system. The Californian company will probably point out that, in contrast to the earlier antitrust dispute over Microsoft’s media player, it is now easier to download alternative apps. The competition in cell phones is much greater than on a desktop computer. According to consumer advocates, users usually stay with pre-installed programs.

The Commission will be supported in the case (Az .: T-604/18) from the European umbrella association of consumer protection organizations BEUC, the German publishers’ associations BDZV and VDZ, the originally active alliance Fairsearch and the search engine manufacturers Qwant and Seznam. “Google has perceived the emergence of mobile telephony as a threat to its search monopoly and has taken various anti-competitive measures to gain control over mobile search as well,” said Thomas Vinje, attorney at Clifford Chance, who will take sides in court on behalf of Fairsearch. The organization includes companies such as Nokia, Microsoft, Oracle and Tripadvisor.

A judgment can be expected in a period of between three and 14 months, unless the Chamber demands written clarifications. Both sides could then appeal to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Until a final decision on the cartel decision of the commission has been made, the fine is deposited as a bank security and is considered to have been paid. It could only flow into the EU budget afterwards, if the judges endorse the requirements.

The trial of strength in court comes six weeks before a ruling on Vestager’s first Google ruling is announced, according to which the company will be fined € 2.42 billion for favoring its own shopping comparison service over other providers. In June, the Commission launched another major investigation into Google’s advertising services.


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