The European Commission (EC) has filed formal antitrust charges against Google relating to its Android mobile operating system. The European Union (EU) has raised issues with Google's agreements with smartphone manufacturers who chose to install Android on their handsets.

A key problem the EU has with Google is how it forces all manufacturers using Android to include a folder containing 11 Google apps on all devices, and that the folder must be just one swipe away from the home screen. As an investigation that opened a year ago comes to a head, the EC complains that this and other measures imposed by Google prevent companies from competing with Android.

According to the EU's complaint, these measures are put into place by Google to strengthen its position as the world's leading search engine. Google commands over 90% of the internet search market in the EU, and around 80% of "smart mobile devices" (phones and tablets) run on Android, the Commission claims.

Google is 'stifling competition and restricting innovation'

Google's practices "appear to close off ways for rival search engines to access the market, via competing mobile browsers and operating systems...they also seem to harm consumers by stifling competition and restricting innovation in the wider mobile space," the Commission said.

Google licenses the use of its Android mobile operating system to many phone makers, including Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, Motorola, Huawei and BlackBerry. The California search giant now has 12 weeks to respond to the Commission's charges and can request an oral hearing to present its views on the matter.

In short, the Commission alleges that Google has breached EU antitrust rules by:

  • Requiring manufacturers to pre-install Google Search and Google's Chrome browser, and requiring them to set Google Search as the default search service on their devices
  • Preventing manufacturers from selling smart mobile devices running on competing operating systems that are based on the Android open source code
  • Giving financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-install Google Search on their devices

These three factors lead to the strengthening of Google's position as the number one provider of search engines and mobile software. The EU is concerned that such restrictions stop manufacturers from being able to compete with Google. Ultimately, this "harms consumers because they are not given as wide a choice as possible and because it stifles innovation," the Commission concluded.

In a statement, Google said: "Android has helped foster a remarkable and, importantly, sustainable ecosystem, based on open-source software and open innovation. We look forward to working with the European Commission to demonstrate that Android is good for competition and good for consumers."