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CCI orders probe into Google for antitrust practices with Android TV

India’s competition watchdog has ordered a probe into Google in a case alleging that the company abuses its dominant position in the smart TV space. The watchdog has directed its investigative arm to complete its investigation and submit a report within 60 days.

According to an order passed on Tuesday, the Competition Commission of India or CCI was of the prima facie view that Google is dominant in the market for licensable smart TV device operating systems in India.

The watchdog said that based on its preliminary estimation of the market shares of different licensable smart TV operating systems, it appears that the market share of Google’s Android TV is almost 90%.

Antitrust lawyers Kshitiz Arya and Purushottam Anand had filed the case in May last year alleging Google of abusing its dominant position in the smart television market and for entering into anti-competitive agreements with Xiaomi and TCL. 

The CCI also said that the agreements that smart TV makers sign with Google to use its operating system makes the pre-installation of Google applications mandatory which, prima facie, is an “unfair condition”.

Even though Google submitted to the commission that an app store on smart TVs is an unimportant consideration since users only install a select few apps on their smart TVs, the CCI concluded that an app store on smart TVs appears to be a “must have” service to meet the dynamic needs of users.

According to the order, Google had also submitted to the commission that it operates in a very competitive smart TV market since competition in the segment also includes on-demand video providers through smart TVs, streaming sticks, set-top boxes and other connected devices. 

However, the CCI said that Google’s assertions were “misplaced” since the other entities do not fit into the ‘licensable smart TV operating systems’ market.

“The emerging smart TV sector in India is thriving, due in part to Google’s free licensing model and Android TV competes with numerous well-established TV OSs such as FireOS, Tizen, and WebOS,” a Google spokesperson said on the development. “We are confident that our smart TV licensing practices are in compliance with all applicable competition laws.”

The complainants had said that Google imposed restrictions on smart TV makers who use its operating system by bundling its own services into the TVs, preventing manufacturers from building smartphones or smart TVs with a “forked” Android operating system and by not offering its services on such software.  

They had also alleged that Google has a market share of 75% or more in the licensable smart TV device operating systems market and also has dominance in the smart TV app store market. On top of that, they argued that six out of the top ten smart TV manufacturers use Google’s operating system, effectively establishing its dominance in the market.  

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