- Firms asked to prepare documents so Google could see evidence
- Declassification requests often precursor to EU objections
The European Union may be gearing up to send Google an antitrust complaint over its Android mobile phone operating system, adding to a growing list of regulatory woes for the company on the continent, according to three people familiar with the probe.
The Internet giant’s opponents have been asked to remove any business secrets from documents submitted to regulators to prepare non-confidential versions that could be shown to Google after a statement of objections, said the people who asked not to be named because the investigation is private.
The move could signal a re-run of last year’s EU escalation of a separate case targeting its comparison shopping-search service. Google received antitrust objections just weeks after rivals got similar EU requests to declassify documents. Google’s advertising business and tax arrangements are also being reviewed by the EU.
Google is one of the most high-profile targets for Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s antitrust chief. More than five years after the EU opened the search probe, it’s still weighing whether to fine Alphabet Inc.’s Google or order it to change its business practices. In previous antitrust cases, the EU has forced Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. to pay billions of euros in fines.
Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, and Ricardo Cardoso, a spokesman for the European Commission, both declined to comment on the possible escalation of the Android case.
A final decision to send objections hasn’t been made yet, the people said. The commission has declassified evidence in other cases where it never sent a formal complaint.
The Android software for mobile phones has been in the EU’s sights since 2013 after it got a complaint from an industry group backed by Microsoft and Nokia Oyj. The EU opened a formal probe last year, examining Google’s agreements with smartphone and tablet manufacturers that see devices sold with Google apps already installed. The EU has been concerned in the past by Google’s bundling of apps such as Maps, YouTube and Chrome software with Android, questioning whether the practice harms independent developers of competing apps.
Regulators and companies have been working on declassifying files for several weeks and the process isn’t yet complete, one of the people said. While it’s not the first time the EU has sought to redact files in the case, the scale of the exercise points to the EU preparing to send a statement of objections, the person said.
The EU is also looking at whether Mountain View, California-based Google has stopped manufacturers developing and marketing their own versions of Android.
Russia’s antitrust authority last year ordered Google to change agreements with mobile-device producers that it said were unfair to other Android app developers. It acted on a complaint from local search-engine provider Yandex NV which says Android’s default options push customers to Google services and away from rivals.