Exclusive: India plans action against Google after antitrust breach


NEW DELHI, May 19 (Reuters) – India’s government plans to take action against Alphabet Inc’s Google ( GOOGL.O ) after an antitrust watchdog found last year that the group had abused its market position by pursuing anti- competition practices, a top IT minister told Reuters.

India’s antitrust body fined Google $275 million in October in two cases involving abuse of its dominant position in the Android operating system market and pushing developers to use its in-app payment system.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the federal deputy minister for information technology, told Reuters in an interview at the IT ministry in New Delhi that such findings are “serious” and cause “deep concern” for India’s federal government, which will take its own action take against Google.

“The ministry should take action,” said Chandrasekhar. “We’ve thought about it. You’ll see it in the coming weeks. Obviously, it’s not something we’re going to let go and push under the rug.”

The minister declined to specify what kind of policy or regulation the government could adopt.

Chandrasekhar, who is one of the most senior officials in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, said the issue is “worrisome, not just for us, it is worrisome for the entire digital ecosystem in India”.

Google did not respond to a request for comment on the minister’s comments. Asked if he had held talks with Google on the issue, Chandrasekhar said “there is no need for a discussion. There is a finding of a court.”

While the payment case is still under appeal, an Indian tribunal said in March in response to a legal challenge that the Competition Commission of India’s findings of Google’s anti-competitive behavior in the Android market were correct.

The minister’s comments come against a backdrop of growing tension between Indian companies and Google.

India’s competition watchdog has launched another investigation into Google after Tinder owner Match Group ( MTCH.O ) and several startups argued that a new service delivery system Google uses for in-app payments violates the competition commission’s October ruling.

Google has previously said that the service supports investments in the Google Play app store and the Android mobile operating system, ensuring that it can distribute it for free.

Following the Android antitrust injunction in India, Google was also forced to make sweeping changes to how it markets its mobile operating system in the country, even though it warned “no other jurisdiction has ever asked for such sweeping changes”.

About 97% of India’s 620 million smartphones run on Android, and the company counts India as a critical growth market.

Other companies such as Apple ( AAPL.O ) and Amazon ( AMZN.O ) also have cases against them for potential anti-competitive practices in India. Chandrasekhar said the government would like to take steps to ensure that India’s digital economy is protected.

“We don’t want it to be growth in a way that distorts consumer choice or free competition,” he said.

“We will certainly look into what the government should do to prevent anyone, including but not limited to Google, from abusing its market power or market dominance.”

Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Munsif Vengattil; Editing by Jan Harvey

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Munsif Vengattil

Thomson Reuters

Munsif Vengattil is a Reuters technology correspondent in India, based in New Delhi. He tracks how policymaking is affecting the business of tech in India, and how the country is now fighting more aggressively to be a force in the global electronics supply chain. He also regularly reports on major tech giants, including Facebook and Google, and their strategies and challenges in the important Indian market.

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