In a major setback for Google, the Supreme Court on Thursday declined to stay the order of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) which directed the tech major to make changes to its Android ecosystem.
The apex court said at the interlocutory stage, the findings of the CCI against Google were neither without jurisdiction nor suffering from any manifest error warranting its interference.
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However, the SC granted Google a week’s extension to comply with the antitrust regulator’s order.
Google had moved the SC seeking an interim stay on CCI’s order, which had also levied a penalty of Rs 1,338 crore on it, after the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) on January 4 declined to offer any relief and directed the company to deposit 10% of the penalty levied. The NCLAT had, however, admitted the company’s plea challenging the CCI’s order for further hearing.
With Google now failing to get a stay from the apex court, it will have to deposit 10% of the penalty levied within a week’s time. Further, it will have to uninstall pre-loaded apps on Android phones and let users select a search engine of their choice. Currently, users cannot delete apps such as Google Maps or YouTube from their Android phones when pre-installed.
Earlier, the deadline for complying with these directions was January 19.
The SC bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and J B Pardiwala, also directed the NCLAT to decide the company’s appeal against CCI’s order by March 31.
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It asked Google to approach the NCLAT within three working days from Thursday for seeking adjudication on its appeal against the CCI order.
During the course of the hearing on Thursday, CCI also rebutted the charge levelled by Google that the antitrust regulator had copy-pasted parts of a European Union ruling against it for abusing the dominance of its Android platform.
In its order in October 2022, CCI had said Google abused its dominance in the licensing of operating system for smart mobile devices, app store market for Android smart mobile, general web search services, non-operating system specific mobile web browsers, and online video hosting platforms in the country.
In April, 2019, the antitrust regulator had ordered a detailed probe in the matter following complaints by consumers of Android-based smartphones in the country. Android is an open-source, mobile operating system installed by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of smartphones and tablets.
In a blog post last week, Google had hit out at CCI for slapping penalties for alleged abuse of its dominant position, saying the orders strike a blow at the effort to accelerate digital adoption in India and will lead to higher prices. India, it said, is at a juncture where barriers to access must be brought down, and safe and secure smartphones made available to all.
“At a time when only half of India’s population is connected, the directions in the CCI’s order strikes a blow at the ecosystem-wide efforts to accelerate digital adoption in the country,” it said.
“In 2008, when Android launched, access to smart, internet-enabled devices was a huge challenge due to prohibitive costs. Over the last 15 years, through Android’s free open-source software and suite of high-quality apps, Google has helped device manufacturers make smartphones more affordable by a vast margin,” it said. As a result, a fully functional smartphone is available at less than Rs 6,000.
“For a country like India, where the cost of adoption is the biggest barrier to digitisation, this has had profound implications. More users have incentivised more developers, and each of those developers achieve immediate scale by writing a single app for Android,” it said. Around 97% smartphones in the country are on Android operating system.