Google pushes to dismiss U.S. antitrust suit targeting its Android practices

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) argued that an antitrust lawsuit against its Android operating system should be dismissed in part because Android device makers can use the platform without also installing Google's apps and services.

The search giant is facing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California from two smartphone customers, who filed a proposed class-action suit against Google in May. The suit alleges that the way in which Google licenses Android to smartphone companies is unfair to Google's competitors for search and other mobile services.

The case is similar to an antitrust complaint filed against Google in June in Europe. Aptoide, a Portuguese company that provides an independent Android mobile application storefront, filed a formal complaint with the European Commission against the search giant, claiming Google is using its dominant position to control the market for Android apps through its Google Play store.

Although Google distributes Android for free as part of an open-source project, it exerts control over the look and feel of Android phones that run Google services like Search and Maps. Part of that effort can be glimpsed in the "Mobile Application Distribution Agreements" OEMs have signed with Google, which require manufacturers to make Google Search the device's default search engine. The agreements even require placement of Google apps in certain locations on the device, such as having its Play Store icon "immediately adjacent" to the home screen.

In the new U.S. lawsuit, the plaintiff's lawyers argue that Google forces OEMs to set its own search engine as the default search function on Android phones, putting competitors at a disadvantage.  "Google badly wants default search engine status because it results in more paid search-related advertisements," the lawsuit said, "which are the source of most of its billions and billions of dollars in annual profits."

However, in a filing on Friday, Google shot back that devices makers are not forced to accept Google apps as a precondition for using Android. Indeed, many OEMs and ODMs in China do not use Google's services for their Android devices, and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) does not do so for its Kindle Fire devices, which run on a forked version of Android.

According to a report in June from research firm CCS Insight, fully one in four Android phones don't currently access Google services like Maps, Gmail and Google Play app store, and that could increase to 30 percent in 2015. Such devices "provide Google with little or no revenue or data and provide a platform for services from Google's competitors," the analysts wrote.  

Google argued that if an OEM opts to install Google apps they can also preload competing apps. And consumers can replace Google as the default search engine by changing settings on their phones. The plaintiff's lawyers argued that most consumers are unlikely to do so. 

"Google's conduct is not only fully consistent with but actually promotes lawful competition," the company wrote.

Google also wrote in its filing that the lawsuit failed to show how Google's agreements with device makers caused consumers to overpay for their phones, according to Reuters. A hearing on the motion to dismiss the lawsuit is currently scheduled for October.

For more:
- see this Reuters article

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