“We expect the latest measures will help set the stage for competition to revive in the mobile OS and app markets. This is also expected to help the launch of innovative goods and services in smart device markets,” according to a translation of agency comments published by the Yonhap News agency.
The Android Compatibility Program provides publicly available code designed to ensure that app developers can make devices that will work together. According to its website, the program encourages device-makers to “consider licensing” Google’s mobile operating system, which enables access to such services as Google Play, Google Maps and Gmail. To use that operating system, device manufacturers have to set up a licensing arrangement with Google.
A Google spokesperson contends the program “has led to greater choice, quality and a better user experience for Korean consumers,” adding that Tuesday’s decision “ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers.” The company plans to appeal.
Google has come under increasing scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers, who say its Android-related policies benefit its own apps and services at the expense of others, allowing it to use its preeminence in one segment of the online ecosystem to dominate another.
In June, the European Union started investigating the company’s influence in online marketing because Google participates “at almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising.” The E.U. previously fined the firm nearly $10 billion in accusing it of using illegal tactics to abuse its dominant market position.
In India, a team of antitrust researchers accused the company of abusing its dominance in the mobile phone operating system market, leading to a formal investigation by the nation’s competition commission. The case hinged, in large part, on certain legal agreements that Google required manufacturers to sign before they could install widely used apps like Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube, according to a case file dated April 2019.
Google faces pressure in the United States, too. Last year, the Justice Department labeled it a “monopolist” and joined with 11 state attorneys general to challenge what they called “exclusionary agreements” that ensured Google was the default search engine on many mobile devices and computers. In early September, Bloomberg News reported that the Justice Department was readying a second lawsuit over Google’s digital advertising business. In news releases, the agency compared its actions against Google to historic antitrust cases involving Microsoft and AT&T.
South Korea’s decision takes issue with the “anti-fragmentation agreements” that Google signs with device manufacturers such as Samsung and Amazon.
According to a 2016 paper published by Harvard Business School, the agreements not only control what can be installed on an Android device, but also exert some power over the operating systems an entire company is allowed to install on its other devices.
“Notably, the AFA appears to apply to all of a manufacturer’s devices, not just a single device for which the manufacturer seeks benefits that Google conditions on the AFA. In particular, a carrier cannot accept the AFA as to some of its devices, but retain the right to distribute other devices that violate AFA,” wrote professors Benjamin Edelman and Damien Geradin.
They said Google’s legal agreements “have the striking effect of impeding entrants” to the smartphone device market. Well-funded software companies like Microsoft, for example, “similarly struggle without access to any portion of Google’s ecosystem and the apps and services that consumers expect,” they wrote.