Android antitrust investigators ask Yandex to detail Google woes

The EU’s competition authorities have formally requested evidence from the Russian web giant Yandex regarding a potential new antitrust case against Google, this time over the bundling of Google services with Android.

This investigation – separate from the long-running case over Google’s search practices — is largely about the all-or-nothing bundling and prime placement of the U.S. firm’s “Google Mobile Services” (GMS) proprietary apps and APIs within Android. The GMS apps include the Play Store, Google Maps, Gmail, Drive, YouTube, Hangouts and Chrome, while Google’s increasing emphasis on GMS APIs also makes many third-party Android apps more dependent on proprietary Google services. This makes it harder to create non-Google forks of the supposedly open-source Android.

The investigators are also examining the possibility that Google may have used its market power to force manufacturers to cancel or delay the launch of mobile devices that use competing operating systems or ship with competing core apps.

According to sources, the European Commission is interested in getting Yandex’s version of events because of the Russian firm’s own mobile services, which it offers to Android device manufacturers as an alternative to the GMS services. Yandex is the most popular search engine in Russia and also has a large presence in other Russian-speaking markets.

The sources told me that even large Google-partnered manufacturers operating in Russian-speaking markets were first forced to shun Yandex search as the default in favor of Google’s search, then had to avoid preinstalling Yandex on the device’s homescreen, and were finally banned from preinstalling Yandex’s services at all. This chimes with recent reports of Google expanding its requirements regarding manufacturers’ pre-installation and promotion of GMS services.

When Yandex revealed its GMS-rivalling “Yandex.Kit” suite earlier this year, it announced Russian manufacturer Explay as a customer. However, in November reports suggested Explay had done a U-turn and was refusing to preinstall any Yandex services, as it had received a GMS licence with Google’s non-compete requirements.

Yandex spokesman Vladimir Isaev confirmed by email that the company had received a formal request for information from the European Commission in the summer, asking it to “disclose information and materials concerning our relations with mobile device manufacturers about pre-installing our services on their devices.”

Isaev added:

Yandex is facing significant difficulties each time it tries to make an agreement with manufacturers about pre-installation or setting as default its search engine or other apps on any Android-based smartphone, or when it tries to secure a distribution contract for its Yandex.Kit platform (including the full package of Yandex apps and API services). Despite the fact that cooperation with Yandex is limited due to certain contractual restrictions, OEMs are interested to cooperate with us, as our services are popular with end users, and our partnership would be profitable.

However, according to our information, even such limited cooperation is at risk of total ban. The ban on Explay’s cooperation is one of the recent examples. The information and materials provided by Yandex will hopefully assist the European Commission in their investigation into the implications of global agreements, primarily, as exemplified by the Russian market.

I have asked Google for comment and will update if I hear back.