The Competition Commission of India (CCI) imposed a fine of ₹936.44 crore on Google last month for abusing its dominant position with respect to its Play Store policies, apart from issuing a cease-and-desist order.
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Just a week before this order, the regulator also imposed another fine of ₹1337.76 crore on the search giant for abusing its dominant position in multiple markets with its Android mobile operating system.
It also ordered Google to modify its conduct and change its policies that the regulator considers as anti-competitive.
Some legal experts note that the orders on Google were rushed and ignored security aspects of devices. By asking Google to discontinue anti-fragmentation, CCI’s orders the security aspect of devices, Gowree Gokhale, Partner at Nishith Desai Associates, a Mumbai-based law firm, told The Hindu.
‘Anti-fragmentation’ ensures that all the modified versions of the Android OS remain compatible with each other so that all the applications and utilities developed for one version works on other versions, and the entire Android ecosystem remains robust and secure for all the versions of Android, she added.
Now in the absence of “anti-fragmentation”, certain incompatible versions of OS might come up that can compromise the security of devices, she said.
The Anti-fragmentation Achilles’ heel
The topic of anti-fragmentation has been a long-standing issue for Google. Back in 2016, the search giant was pulled up by EU’s antitrust regulators for its practice of crossing selling its products as part of Android licensing.
The European Commission noted that while Android is an open-source system that can be freely used and developed by anyone Google’s condition of its proprietary apps and services on Android devices was cause for concern.
In particular, if a smartphone maker wants to pre-install Google proprietary apps like Play Store and Chrome on its devices, Google requires it to enter into an “Anti-Fragmentation Agreement” that commits it not to sell devices running on Android forks.
According to EU law, dominant firms are allowed to make such agreements only if they can justify the restrictions. The EU commission noted that Google has not been able to make a case for such contracts. Instead, the commission said it found evidence that such agreements prevented handset makers from selling devices with a competing Android fork.
An incompatible app ecosystem
Some experts point to an incompatibility issue if different OEMs develop their own version of Android OS. The CCI’s order could lead to a fragmented OS market where developers’ app building cost may go higher, Ms. Gokhale noted.
Any perceived gains from allowing users to uninstall pre-installed applications, or letting developers create fragmented ecosystems are minimal compared to the loss of efficiencies brought by Android’s policies, she added.
In response to CCI orders on Play Store policies, a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement that Indian developers have benefited from the technology, security, consumer protections, and unrivalled choice and flexibility that Android and Google Play provide. This lets them keep costs low and power India’s digital transformation and expand access to several Indians.