The US Federal Trade Commission has begun looking into complaints that search and mobile OS giant Google has used its Android OS mobile operating system to gain a competitive promotional advantage. Google is alleged to have used its OS to push products like Google Maps and Google Search to users of phones running the Android OS.
It is important to note that the FTC inquiry is still in a preliminary stage. This might mean that the investigation will be opened and concluded with no official action taken against Google. Google has dodged the bullet of US regulatory action before and considering the preliminary nature of this latest investigation, this inquiry might end up the same way.
Still, this latest FTC investigation is the last thing Google (and its shareholders) would want considering that the company is already in legal hot waters in the European Union. Moreover, if the investigation goes from preliminary to a full-on comprehensive investigation leading to antitrust complaints, the consequences can be quite damaging to the Internet giant.
What makes the current preliminary antitrust investigation interesting to industry observers is that it doesn’t seem like a direct exercise of market dominance for direct gain. Google doesn’t extract a direct profit from its Android OS-a free OS it developed and which powers the majority of smartphones on the planet. In fact, Google doesn’t extract direct profits from its OS unlike its rival Apple Computers.
With that said, the antitrust angle in the recent FTC investigation turns on whether Google is using its control over the Android OS to position its products for Android users to use more than competing products. This avenue of inquiry brings up memories of 1990s antitrust actions against Microsoft where the Redmond WA-based software giant was successfully penalized for using its operating system market dominance to push Internet Explorer on PC users to the detriment of rival browser Netscape Navigator.