Google is hit with antitrust charges in Europe: Firm is accused of stifling competition with pre-loaded Android apps
Google has allegedly given financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile network operators if they pre-installed Google Search
Already facing charges over promotion of its shopping service in searches
The California-based firm now has 12 weeks to respond to the charges
Google has been accused by the European Commission of 'stifling competition' by abusing the dominant position of its Android operating system.
The EU Anti-Trust Commission has alleged the technology giant breached competition rules by preventing consumers from 'having as wide a choice as possible'.
The commission claims Google was making manufacturers pre-install Google Search and the Chrome browser.
In a statement of objections to the US tech firm, the Commission told Google it had breached EU competition law.
It said that if found guilty the company faces a heavy fine and would be forced to clean up its act.
Google is already facing charges over the promotion of its shopping service in internet searches at the expense of rival services in a case that has been on since late 2010.
In the latest charge, Google has allegedly given financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile network operators if they exclusively pre-installed Google Search on their devices.
It has also blocked some manufacturers from selling smartphones which ran on 'competing operating systems based on the Android open source code'.
The Commission believes these moves have stopped other mobile browsers from being able to compete with Google in the rapidly growing smartphone and Android markets.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, the European competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, told journalists she had reached a preliminary view that Google was in breach of EU law.
The California based firm now has 12 weeks to respond to the charges.
Vestager went onto detail specific problems in the Android market. Android was first unveiled by Google in 2007 and allows users to swipe, tap and pinch objects on their phones and tablets.
It is what is known as an 'open-source software' platform, meaning competing operating systems can be built using its source code.
A TIMELINE OF EVENTS
2007 - US Federal Trade Commission investigates Google's acquisition of online advertising firm DoubleClick and rules it can go ahead.
2008 - US Justice Department blocks a deal to allow Yahoo to run Google search ads on Yahoo sites.
2009 - Rivals file complaints against Google to national regulators in Europe, citing competition concerns.
2010 - European Commission launches formal antitrust probe of Google's search business. This is still ongoing.
2013 - FTC drops its two-year investigation of Google, concluding it had not manipulated search results to damage rivals.
2014 - European politicians pass a non-binding resolution calling for the break-up of Google's search engine business from the rest of the company.
2015 - New EU antitrust commissioner Ms Vestager charges Google with distorting search results to favour its own shopping services over rivals and reveals that she is also investigating Google's Android business.
But today the Commissioner alleged Google had barred manufacturers from selling devices using these operating systems.
She said: 'Based on our investigation thus far, we believe that Google's behaviour denies consumers a wider choice of mobile apps and services and stands in the way of innovation by other players, in breach of EU anti-trust rules.'
Pictured is the global market for smartphone operating systems, showing just how dominant Android has become
She added that a 'competitive mobile internet sector' was becoming more important for consumers and businesses in Europe.
Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president and general counsel, responded: 'Android has helped foster a remarkable - and, importantly, sustainable - ecosystem, based on open-source software and open innovation.
'We look forward to working with the European Commission to demonstrate that Android is good for competition and good for consumers.'
According to the EU Commission, Google is a dominant force, holding more than 90 per cent of the market for general internet search, licensable smart mobile operating systems and app stores for the Android mobile operating system.
It added that about 80 per cent of smartphones across the world run on the Android operating systems developed by Google.
The rebuke from the commission comes after Google faced criticism earlier this year for the amount of tax it pays in the UK.
The company has agreed to pay the Treasury £130million in back taxes and interest dating back to the previous decade, but has been criticised over the amount.
Last week the European Union's digital chief warned that he wanted search engines - such as Google's and Microsoft's Bing - to be more transparent about advertising in web search results.
European Commission vice-president Andrus Ansip, said he was worried about how transparent some search engines are when displaying ads in search results.
The Commission is also looking into the transparency of paid-for reviews as well as the conditions of use of services such as Google Maps and Apple's IoS mobile operating system.
WHAT EXACTLY IS GOOGLE ACCUSED OF DOING?
The European Commission has accused Google of 'abusing its position' in the apps market by promoting its own Android service at the expense of others.
What has the European Commission taken issue with?
The commission says Google has breached EU competition rules by imposing restrictions on device manufacturers and mobile network operators who wish to use the Android operating system, obliging them to install Google Search and Google Chrome.
The commission claims this is Google forcing users to build more Google apps into devices to get a better Android experience, something they say is not fair to competing apps and services.
The commission also alleges that manufacturers were barred from selling devices carrying competing software built using Android's open-source base code - which is freely available - and that financial incentives were offered to those who exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app.
What has been Google's response?
In a blog post, Google has argued that its agreements with manufacturers and networks were entirely voluntary and anyone can 'use Android without Google'.
'You can download the entire operating system for free, modify it how you want, and build a phone. And major companies like Amazon do just that.'
The company added that pre-loading apps helps to make new phones more stable.
'Manufacturers who want to participate in the Android ecosystem commit to test and certify that their devices will support Android apps. Without this system, apps wouldn't work from one Android device to the next.
'Imagine how frustrating it would be if an app you downloaded on one Android phone didn't also work on your replacement Android phone from the same manufacturer.'
What happens next?
The technology firm has 12 weeks to respond and a protracted legal case is likely to follow. If found guilty it could be fined or forced to change its practices.