Brussels shines spotlight on Google's Android as EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager raises concerns

Lynsey Barber
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Margrethe Vestager has her eyes on Google Android (Source: Getty)

Brussels has set its sights on Google again, and this times it's all about Android.

Competition chief Margrethe Vestager today spoke out about its investigation into Android's operating system, ahead of formal action which is expected to soon be taken.

The EU Commission is looking at whether Google dominates apps to the exclusion of others, thus reducing competition, by having certain ones pre-loaded on phones.

"When we take a new smartphone out of its box, we want it to be ready to go straight away," Vestager said.

"We expect the maker - or the network operator - to make sure the basic apps, like a search app, are pre-loaded before it gets to us. And that gives innovators a great opportunity to bring a new app to people’s attention."

"Our concern is that, by requiring phone makers and operators to pre-load a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers."

The commission last year launched the probe into Android this time last year, at the same time that it filed formal charges against Google in an antitrust case over search following a five year investigation.

The Android probe has moved much faster under Vestager, who became competition chief at the end of 2014, and the commission is reportedly preparing to make a formal announcement on the next steps it will take.

A Google spokesperson said in response to Vestager's comments: "Anyone can use Android, with or without Google applications. Hardware manufacturers and carriers can decide how to use Android and consumers have the last word about which apps they want to use on their devices. We continue to discuss this with the European Commission."

Google's Europe boss Matt Brittin warned that European red tape was holding back tech companies and leaving the region at risk of being overtaken by China.

He called Brussels officials mainly “good people that are trying to inform themselves about the world, and maybe could be better informed than they are," speaking to the Financial Times.

“There are some places in Europe and some interests in Europe where the first inclination is to protect the past from the future. There is an educational job to do there. We and others have a lot to do."

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