An Indian tribunal has rejected Google’s initial attempt to block a $162mn antitrust fine as well as forced changes to its business practices, in a blow to the US tech giant in a key market.
The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) on Wednesday declined to pass an order that would prevent India’s competition watchdog from penalising Google for allegedly “abusing its dominant position” in devices using its Android operating system.
The NCLAT ordered Google to deposit 10 per cent of the Competition Commission of India’s total fine, and did not give it any immediate relief on the watchdog’s redressal measures that aim to counter the tech company’s alleged anti-competitive practices.
It did agree to consider Google’s appeal against the competition watchdog’s order.
It comes amid growing signs that India, with well over 700mn internet users, has started playing a more active role in shaping global tech regulation. The competition watchdog’s Android case is one of two antitrust fines it slapped on the US tech giant last year, underscoring Google’s legal challenges in its biggest market by users.
The CCI imposed the $162mn fine in October and ordered Google to make changes to its business practices after arguing that the US tech giant unfairly used its dominant position. This includes its requirement that Android-enabled mobile phones pre-install Google-owned apps such as Google Maps, YouTube and the Google search widget.
The watchdog said that devicemakers “should not be forced to pre-install a bouquet of applications” and that licensing of Google’s app-selling Play Store “shall not be linked with the requirement” of installing Google’s own apps.
Google has denied anti-competitive practices and had fought back by appealing to the NCLAT, which on Wednesday accepted the appeal. The next hearing will be held in February.
“Given that antitrust regulators around the world have been looking at multidimensional issues with large ramifications for users, the CCI feels it should also take up those issues and make a statement that it’s here, that it’s a big regulator, that it should be accounted with,” said Vivan Sharan, a partner with Koan Advisory, a tech policy consultancy.
Google said it believed the CCI’s orders presented a “major setback for our Indian users”. The company has argued that “Android has greatly benefited Indian users, developers, and OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], and powered India’s digital transformation.”
“While India has not gone the China way of blocking all foreign tech firms, this doesn’t mean it will allow monopolistic behaviour,” said Anirudh Suri, author of the book The Great Tech Game, who declined to comment on the specifics of the Google case. “From a domestic standpoint it is very clear to me that India is very adamant that there should be a level playing field for all tech firms.”