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Does Android stifle competition? DOJ antitrust chief says Google could be investigated

Published Oct 4th, 2018 1:14PM EDT
Google antitrust

Makan Delrahim, President Trump’s antitrust chief at the U.S. Dept. of Justice, told congressmen this week that Google could very well find itself the subject of an antitrust investigation focused on its Android mobile operating system.

That’s according to two sources who confirmed the news to the New York Post, with one of them adding: “I think Makan’s comments were fairly significant.”

From a report in the paper, we learned that: “President Trump’s antitrust chief at the Department of Justice told Capitol Hill lawmakers on Wednesday that his agency could investigate the search giant for anti-competitive behavior. The Federal Trade Commission closed a 20-month antitrust probe of Google’s search practices in 2013 without taking any action. At the time, those close to the regulator believed the Mountain View, Calif., company was in the clear.”

Since then, of course, a lot has changed. Not the least of which is the fact we have a new president and a new administration that may have an increasing appetite for going after tech giants, with no less than Trump himself not hesitating to call out Google over perceived mishaps like alleged bias in the company’s search results.

The regulatory landscape has also titled a bit. Indeed, the EU this summer hit Google with a record $5 billion fine over alleged antitrust issues related to Android and the stifling of competition. That penalty came as a result of Google’s longstanding policy of requiring Android device makers to set Google’s own search and web browsers as the default offerings. Along those same lines, Damian Collins, a prominent conservative member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, told Business Insider in recent days that he thinks it’s inevitable the British government “will tighten the regulatory reins” around tech giants like Google’s parent company Alphabet.

We’ll have to wait and see if something like that materializes in the U.S. In the meantime, Delrahim himself sat down with Recode’s Kara Swisher for an episode of the publication’s Recode Decode podcast a few weeks ago. During an exchange at one point about Google’s purchase of YouTube back in 2006, Delrahim reveals a bit of his thinking that might be relevant to any future case against Google, its ownership of Android and any alleged antitrust issues.

Swisher recounts a conversation she had with a lawyer who mused about whether Facebook would have been allowed to buy WhatsApp today or likewise with Google and YouTube. Here’s part of Delrahim’s response:

“So this was raised to me about Google and YouTube just as an example, and I’m not saying that those companies are per se legal or every activity is legal. They could very well be violating the antitrust laws down the road if they take certain actions. But just taking a look at YouTube. Back when they purchased YouTube, was it the robust content distributor that it is today, online? I don’t think so. Did it benefit from the technology and the resources that Google had in order to make it what it is? Yes, and that’s the efficiency that is positive.”

Swisher: “You mean like Facebook buying Instagram or …”

“Facebook buying Instagram is another one. Now if Instagram was actually like it is today back when they bought it, does that raise competitive problems? Probably. But would Instagram be what it is today without Facebook? I don’t know. And those are times and snapshots that enforcers need to be really vigilant. They need to look at it. They need to look at not only the price factors, output, innovation, quality, and seeing that does this merger harm competitive process in any way? And if so they need to step in. They shouldn’t be afraid of politics or the PR that those companies can bring down.”

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Andy Meek Trending News Reporter

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.