Indian Supreme Court rocks Google by refusing to block Android antitrust ruling

NEW DELHI, Jan 19 (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected Google’s request to block an antitrust order forcing it to change the way it markets its Android platform, and dealt the US company a serious blow in a key growth market.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) fined Google, owned by Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL.O), $161 million for exploiting its dominant position in Android, which powers 97% of smartphones in India operates and urged it to change the restrictions imposed by smartphone manufacturers related to the pre-installation of apps.

Google challenged the directive in the Supreme Court, saying it would hurt consumers and its business, and warned the growth of the Android ecosystem could stall.

A three-judge panel of judges at the Supreme Court, which includes India’s chief justice, delayed the January 19 implementation date of the CCI guidelines by a week, but declined to block the ruling despite repeated calls from Google.

“We are not inclined to interfere,” Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said.

During the hearing, Chandrachud told Google, “Look at the kind of authority you wield over dominance.”

India’s top court asked a lower court, which is already hearing the matter, to rule on Google’s challenge by March 31.

Google licenses its Android system to smartphone makers, but critics say it imposes restrictions like mandatory pre-installation of its own apps, which are anti-competitive. The company argues that such agreements help keep Android free.

The Supreme Court ruling complicates Google’s business practices in India as the company could be forced to change its agreements with smartphone players and other device makers in the coming days, other lawyers familiar with the decision said.

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The CCI has ordered Google that its Play Store’s licensing “should not be linked to the pre-installation requirement” of Google search services, the Chrome browser, YouTube or any other Google application.

It also instructed Google not to ban the uninstallation of its apps by Android phone users in India. Currently, apps like Google Maps or YouTube cannot be deleted from Android phones if they are pre-installed.

Google was concerned about India’s decision, as the rulings are seen as more far-reaching than the European Commission’s landmark 2018 ruling, which imposed so-called unlawful restrictions on Android mobile device makers. Google has appealed the record $4.3 billion fine in that case.

Google also says in its India filings that “no other jurisdiction has ever requested such sweeping changes”.

Google had also argued in its legal filings viewed by Reuters that CCI’s investigative unit “copied extensively from a European Commission decision and used evidence from Europe that was not examined in India.”

N. Venkataraman, a government attorney representing the CCI, told the top court, “We didn’t cut, copy, and paste.”

Reporting by Aditya Kalra, Arpan Chaturvedi and Munsif Vengattil; Edited by Jason Neely and Vin Shahrestani

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