What comes to your mind when you hear about the MAANG companies? Apparently, it is an acronym for the global big technology (big tech) companies – Meta, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google (Alphabet Inc.). With lopsided power, they have become the global bullies who have been meddling with the internal affairs of countries.
They adulterate or alter the narrative as per their agenda and profit making. In the garb of ‘intermediary platforms/service-providers’ they have been blatantly curbing free speech and expression to suit its business model or to further the interests of its masters.
To highlight this grave ‘misconduct’ of BigTech, here is one audacious attempt of BigTech to stifle free speech and free flow of ideology.
Google’s online video sharing platform flagged an excerpt of PM Modi’s interview where the Journalist asks him about the New World Order.
The platform has flagged the emerging reality of New World Order as a conspiracy theory. This brazen strangulation of opinion of PM Modi, the head of government of the world’s largest democracy, speaks volumes about their abject misuse of their platform. It is also an open display of their biases against one sort of idea or narrative which clearly violates the concept of INTERMEDIARY.
Further, this also violates the fair principle of Net Neutrality. The principle states that all the internet service providers (ISP) have to provide access to all sites, content at the same speed, without any conditions attached or without restricting/blocking or giving preference to any content.
However, these big tech companies forget that in the end they can’t take sovereign nations for granted and flaunt their illicit Power against consumers or abuse market practices at their will.
Google abused market practices to smother its possible rivals
In a fair and just economy, the state authorities have to ensure that the misuse of money and muscle power doesn’t strangulate innovation, research and competitiveness in the market. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is the Chief National Competition regulatory authority in the country. For several years, it had been receiving innumerable complaints of flagrant misuse of power by big tech companies including Alphabet’s Google.
In its findings, the CCI found out that the global internet giant, Google was “abusing its market dominant position” in multiple categories. This prompted the agency to impose a PROVISIONARY penalty of Rs 1337.76 crore ($162 million) on Google.
CCI imposes monetary penalty of ₹ 1337.76 crore on Google for abusing dominant position in multiple markets in the Android Mobile device ecosystem.
Press Release: https://t.co/sXXA0RvK51#Antitrust #AntitrustOrder #antitrustlaw #Google #CCI pic.twitter.com/FE5Yh8PWr4
— CCI (@CCI_India) October 20, 2022
The CCI findings revealed that Google had abused its market dominance in the following categories related to the Android mobile device ecosystem in the country.
- Issuing licences to its Operating System (OS) for smart mobile devices.
- App store for Android smart mobiles (Google App store)
- General web search services (Google Search Engine, Gmail, Google Maps)
- Non-Operating System specific mobile web browsers
- Online Video hosting platforms (YouTube)
Google arm twisted manufacturers to Pre-install its services
The CCI stated that Google manages the Android operating system (OS) and licences. This gives it an added advantage over its competitors to pre-install most prominent search entry points like search apps, widget and Chrome browser on the newly manufactured Android devices.
Further, the CCI held that Google has secured an uncanny competitive advantage with its other revenue earning apps like YouTube in the Android devices.
CCI also explained that Google misused its advantage and forced OEMs to pre-install its Google Mobile Suits (GMS). This is how Google is “maintaining” its dominance by misusing its added advantages to stifle its rivals.
The allegations of unfair business practices against Google are based on two controversial agreements namely MADA and Anti Fragmentation Agreement (AFA). Google had signed these agreements with OEMs of Android OS.
With this, it gets an unparalleled market access and ‘lawfully’ compels OEMs to mandatorily pre-install entire GMS without giving option to UNINSTALL these applications. Contrary to that, the competitors of these services fail to avail the same level of market access as Google does with these MADA agreements which is also coupled by the status quo bias. This creates gigantic entry barriers to competitors of Google.
CCI warns Google to amend its unfair market practices or face further wrath of law
In addition to the provisional penalty, the CCI issued “cease and desist” directions to the tech giant for these illicit market practices. To put it simply, the CCI asked Google to not deny access to its Play Services plugins to the “disadvantaged” Original Equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Notably, in the mobile industry, OEMs refer to companies that manufacture their own phones in their own factories.
Further, the CCI directed that the tech giant should not make it mandatory to pre-install Google search, Chrome browser, YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail or any other Google application to issue a licence of Play Store to OEMs.
Additionally, the CCI came down heavily against the tech giant for forcing OEMs to make Google as the default search engine. It stressed that Google has to allow users to choose their default search engine as early as during the time of initial device setup.
Also Read: MMT and OYO were running their own Licence Raj, CCI spoiled their party
The competition regulator also ensured that established app developer Google doesn’t strangulate innovation, skills and hard work of budding app developers in the country.
The CCI made it categorically clear that Google has to stop restricting the app developers from distributing their apps through side-loading. Side-loading of an app refers to the process in which a developer offers their apps outside of Google Play Store. Currently, Google hinders app developers from side-loading by cautioning the users against side-loaded apps and flagging them as potential security THREATS.
Pertinent to note that these directions to Google have to be complied within a stipulated time frame. As the CCI has asked Google to provide the requisite financial details and supporting documents within 30 days otherwise the final penalty against Google may be increased by manyfold.
Also Read: 403 forbidden! Google comes under India’s radar
However, the quantum of fine imposed by CCI on Google is significantly lower as compared to penalties imposed on Google in other countries for such grave violations.
Notably, the CCI has been probing alleged anti-market practices of Google for a long time now. The case started way back in April 2019, when CCI had received complaints of several android users following which it ordered a detailed investigation into the matter.
Earlier, in November 2020, the CCI launched an investigation against Google on the accusation that it was eliminating the competition by establishing a monopoly in the field of mobile payment system (Google Pay). However, this investigation is still ongoing.
Additionally, in 2021, the CCI investigation revealed that Google tried to eliminate competition. It promoted its apps to dominate the mobile app market. So, the tech giant has been in the radar of CCI for a long time and it has to amend the prescribed changes otherwise the competition regulator will increase the penalty among other options available in its kitty for these grave anti-market practices of Google.
State vs BigTech
The big tech has been meddling the internal affairs of many countries while at the same time flaunting all the rules and laws of the land. Several sovereign states have spoken against this hegemonic menace created by big tech. In their findings several nations have found that Google had been violating these rules in their territories as well.
Also Read: Big-Tech is a modern tool of colonisation
In 2017, the European Commission imposed a fine of 2.42 billion euros against Google for breaching the antitrust rules of the European Union (EU). The trade bloc too had found out that Google had abused its market dominance. Google, being a search engine, gave an illegal advantage to its companies like shopping services. It misused the data of users to benefit these aided or partner companies.
Ironically, Google had challenged the EU’s penalty in the EU’s highest court but this year it lost its court battle as well. The European General Court vindicated the 2018 decision by the EU’s executive arm to penalise Google with a fine of more than 4 billion euros ($3.99 billion).
In addition to that, the US Department of Justice has been investigating allegations of monopoly in Google’s search engine and online advertising. Notably, the Attorney Generals of 10 US states and around 38 US states have launched investigations into allegations of monopoly in online advertising.
Further, Google has been alleged of creating a monopoly in the app payment service in the US.
Parallelly, in South Korea, an investigation is ongoing against Google for the alleged misuse of the Android platform. In 2021, the Trade Commission of Korea had imposed a fine of $ 177 million on Google in this case.
BigTech should realise that if it tries to become the tool of neo-colonialism, then it is only fooling itself. It shouldn’t and it can’t take sovereign elected governments for granted. No matter how powerful they become, sovereign upright nations like India will show them the might of law and that they have been let away till now just because of the reasonable character of democracies.
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