US antitrust authorities could follow EU in investigating Google's Android deals

A joint DOJ-FTC investigation of Google's Android licensing deals may be in the offing

U.S. antitrust authorities may be ready to follow their European counterparts in investigating how Google licenses its apps and services for use on Android smartphones.

Authorities in Russia found Google guilty of similar charges last week.

Android is an open source operating system, but many of the apps and services that Android phone and tablet buyers see and use are proprietary Google offerings, including Google Now, the Play Store, and Google Maps.

Some companies  -- most notably Amazon.com in the U.S. and Yandex in Russia -- have sold Android tablets and phones without Google's suite of apps and services, replacing them with their own equivalents. A complaint from Yandex triggered the Russian case decided last week.

The European Commission, the EU's antitrust authority, has expressed concern that Google may have illegally hindered development of rival mobile operating systems, applications and services.

On April 15, the Commission opened a formal investigation into Google's licensing practices, focusing on three allegations: that it illegally required smartphone and tablet makers to exclusively install its own apps and services on devices; that it required device makers to use its products on all the devices they produced, preventing them from selling other devices with their own alternatives, and that it bundled certain of its apps and services with others, preventing device makers from combining, say, Google's search with a rival mapping tool.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission began an investigation of Google in 2011 that reportedly included an examination of Google's Android licensing practices. That case was eventually settled without reference to Android licensing.

Now, however, the FTC is set to head a joint investigation with the U.S. Department of Justice into Google's Android licensing, Bloomberg reports.

The inquiry is in its early stages and could end without charges, the report said, citing two people familiar with the matter. FTC staff in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.

The EU investigation into Android licensing is ongoing.

However, in another case against the company the European Commission has charged Google with illegally favoring its own comparison shopping service in search results, ahead of rival services.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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