Microsoft and a host of other businesses are right to complain that Google unfairly uses Android to consolidate its monopoly in mobile search advertising. There's certainly an irony in Microsoft making the complaint, but the company knows about anti-competitive practices, because it used similar tactics years ago in using Windows to harm competitors.
The FairSearch coalition, composed of Microsoft, Nokia, Oracle, Expedia, TripAdviser and others, has filed a complaint with the European Commission charging that Google uses Android as a 'Trojan Horse' as the core what the group calls an "anti-competitive strategy to dominate the mobile marketplace and cement its control over consumer Internet data for online advertising as usage shifts to mobile."
Thomas Vinje, Brussels-based counsel to the FairSearch coalition, said in a statement:
"Google is using its Android mobile operating system as a 'Trojan Horse' to deceive partners, monopolize the mobile marketplace, and control consumer data. We are asking the Commission to move quickly and decisively to protect competition and innovation in this critical market. Failure to act will only embolden Google to repeat its desktop abuses of dominance as consumers increasingly turn to a mobile platform dominated by Google’s Android operating system."
The group charges that even though Google gives away Android for free to device makers, if the makers want to use Google apps such as YouTube, they are required to put other Google applications, such as Google Maps on the Android desktop. The group says in a press release that:
"Google achieved its dominance in the smartphone operating system market by giving Android to device-makers for 'free.' But in reality, Android phone makers who want to include must-have Google apps such as Maps, YouTube or Play are required to pre-load an entire suite of Google mobile services and to give them prominent default placement on the phone, the complaint says. This disadvantages other providers, and puts Google's Android in control of consumer data on a majority of smartphones shipped today."
If device makers are required to place other apps on the desktop in return to using one or more of them, then FairSearch is right: Google's practices are anti-competitive and should be banned.
Microsoft used similar tactics years ago when it used Windows to lock out competitive browsers as well as help kill off Office competitors. The U.S. Justice Department and the European Commission have both rightly taken action against Microsoft for that through the years.
Google is already in trouble with the European Commission. The commission has been investigating Google for unfairly giving preferences to its own services in search results, among other practices. The New York Times reports that Google and the commission have been negotiating an agreement to change those practices.
It's not clear whether the commission will also investigate the FairSearch charges. But it should. Just because Microsoft has been guilty of similar practices is no reason not to investigate.