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Google fined $162 million in Indian antitrust probe

The Competition Commission of India, the country’s competition regulator has imposed a monetary penalty of ₹1337.76 crores (approximately $161.95 million at the time of writing) on Google India for anti-competitive practices related to Android devices in the country. 

The CCI claims that Google has leveraged its dominant position in the market to push manufacturers to not remove its apps like Chrome, YouTube and Gmail among others on the phones they sell.

Alongside the fine, the CCI has also ordered Google to not offer any incentives to manufacturers to set up Google as the default search engine or Google apps as the default apps on their phones in addition to restricting the company from entering certain revenue-sharing agreements with smartphone makers stating that such practices are what helped gained Google dominance and secure exclusivity for its services. 

The five-page press release further goes on to state certain other directives that Google must follow in order for there to be fair competition in the market. These directives include giving users the ability to choose their search engine of choice when setting up their phones, the ability to remove pre-installed Google apps, OEMs shouldn’t be denied access to the Play Store APIs, and Google shouldn’t restrict the ability of app developers in any manner to distribute their apps through side-loading. 

Now while these orders give consumers a lot of choices and competitors some breathing space, they also create a few challenges, and not all of them are for Google.

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Does this impact Google?

Google services already enjoy a massive user base in India. YouTube for example had 467 million active monthly users in April 2022. In 2021, Android held a 95.84% market share in the country. 

Google’s dominance has become so big that a lot of its apps have become synonymous with the services they follow. While the orders give users free choice going forward, the already large userbase that Google enjoys in the country means that people will in all likelihood continue using its apps and services.

Besides the ₹1337.76 crores fine isn’t really much of a dent to the company considering that Google India’s ad revenue alone was ₹13,886.7 crores in 2021.

Letting anyone get on the Play Store has security implications

The orders also state that:

  • Google shall allow the developers of app stores to distribute their app stores through the Play Store.
  • Google shall not restrict the ability of app developers, in any manner, to distribute their apps through side-loading. 

The Google Play Store is already riddled with apps that either end up delivering malware to the target device or are in some way shape or form practically useless. Having a strict review process in place helps keep app stores protected and letting third-party app stores integrate directly with the Play Store can have far-reaching consequences for how safe apps are distributed on Android through official channels.

Additionally, Google recently limited app capabilities for side-loaded apps as side-loading is a common attack vector for malicious apps to make their way onto target devices. Once again, removing these restrictions or letting these channels run free in the name of providing fair competition can open up Android users to a host of malicious apps that go unchecked. 

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