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Google under US antitrust scanner for Android: Reports

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Source: Google

Google is facing a U.S. antitrust investigation into whether it blocked access to competitors' services on its Android mobile operating system, according to media reports.

The Federal Trade Commission has struck a deal with the Justice Department to probe Google's Android business. Google is being accused of giving priority to its own services on Android, while stifling access to others, a move that could give it an unfair advantage.

Google declined to comment on the reports.

Currently, most Android phones come pre-installed with Google services such as Google Maps, YouTube and the Google Play app store. The FTC and Justice Department probe will look into whether this practice gives the U.S. search giant an unfair advantage and is potentially damaging for rival app developers and handset manufacturers, according to the reports.

"If the allegation against Google is that Google is tying applications to its Android system, the suggestion may be that this hinders the development or market access of rival applications," Pinar Ackman, professor of law at the University of Leeds, told CNBC by email.

But Google could be let off the hook if it is proved that there is strong competition in the mobile operating system market – such as from Apple – and that consumers are not blocked access to other apps, Akman added.

"The bottom line is if the mobile operating system market itself is competitive and consumers have different means of installing different applications onto their devices, then it will be very difficult to prove any competition law infringement," the lawyer said.

The inquiry is in its early stages and could end without a case against the company, according to the reports.



EU investigation

This is not the first run in between the FTC and Google. The antitrust authority led an investigation into Google's search business in 2011 but in 2013, concluded that it would not bring a case against the technology giant after it agreed to make some changes to its practices.

But Google is still at loggerheads with regulators in Europe. In April, the European Commission, the European Union's (EU) executive arm, opened a form investigation against Google looking into whether the company has "illegally hindered the development and market access of rival mobile operating systems, mobile communication applications and services". The probe again focuses on whether the bundling of Google's applications hinders competition.

The EU is also investigating whether Google displayed its own shopping price comparison service more prominently than its rivals. Google responded to the allegations in August in a 100 page document.

"Economic data spanning more than a decade, an array of documents, and statements from complainants all confirm that product search is robustly competitive," Kent Walker, the company's senior vice president and general counsel said in a blog post last month.