EU Speeds Up Android Probe, Giving Foes 24-Hour Deadlines

  • Companies in race to redact evidence in Google Android case
  • Such a step is seen as precursor to EU statement of objections

The European Union accelerated its antitrust probe into Google’s Android mobile-phone operating system, seen as a sign that regulators are poised to send out a formal complaint within days.

The EU has given Google’s critics deadlines as short as 24 hours to remove business secrets from evidence that could be used in the case -- an indication that a statement of objections is on its way, according to three people, who asked not to be named because the process is private.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google is one of the most high-profile targets for EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. The way the EU has ramped up the Android probe follows the same pattern as last year’s escalation of a separate case targeting Google’s comparison shopping-search service. The company 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.

"In some markets Android has become very very big and we have had people coming to us with concerns," Vestager told CNBC last week. The probe is "a high priority because these are fast-moving markets."

Officials at Mountain View, California-based Google and the European Commission declined to comment on the investigation.

‘State of Play’

EU officials still need to meet with Google for so-called state of play talks -- where companies are usually informed of regulators’ concerns before formal objections are sent.

More than five years after the EU opened the search probe, it’s still weighing whether to fine 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.

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 at the time by Microsoft and Nokia Oyj. The EU opened a formal probe last year, examining Google’s agreements with smartphone and tablet manufacturers that make 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.

The EU is also looking at whether Google has stopped manufacturers developing and marketing their own versions of Android.

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