In a significant ruling, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) on Wednesday upheld the penalty of ₹1,337 crore imposed on Google by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for its anti-competitive conduct in the Android ecosystem.
The appellate tribunal simultaneously set aside CCI’s four critical directions — of the 10 non-monetary directives it issued in its Android ruling of October 20, 2022 — that would have forced Google to change its business model. These relate to the requirement of Google to share its Play Services APIs to OEMs, app developers and its existing or potential competitors; non-restriction of the un-installing of its pre-installed apps by users; allowing app store developers to distribute through Play Store; and not restricting the ability of app developers, in any manner, to distribute their apps through side-loading.
Delivering the verdict, the NCLAT Bench comprising Ashok Bhushan, Chairperson, and Alok Srivastava, Member (Technical), gave the tech giant 30 days time to pay the fine and also comply with the remaining six directions.
While Google said, “We are grateful for the opportunity given by the NCLAT to make our case. We are reviewing the order and evaluating our legal options”, Union Minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar stated that the judgment is a cautionary message to all platforms and companies. “India’s digital nagrik rights must be respected and any anti-competitive or anti-consumer practices will be a violation of the Indian competition law,” he said.
Six directions that stay
The six non-monetary directions that Google will have to comply with in the next 30 days are: OEMs shall not be restrained from (a) choosing from Google’s proprietary applications to be pre-installed and should not be forced to pre-install a bouquet of applications and (b) deciding the placement of pre-installed apps on their smart devices; licensing of Play Store to OEMs shall not be linked with the requirement of pre-installing Google applications; Google shall not offer any monetary/other incentives to, or enter into any arrangement with, OEMs for ensuring exclusivity for its search services.
Google shall also not impose anti-fragmentation obligations on OEMs, OEMs should be permitted to manufacture/ develop Android forks based smart devices for themselves. Additionally, Google shall not incentivise or obligate OEMs for not selling smart devices based on Android forks; and it shall allow users, during the initial device set-up, to choose their default search engine for all search entry points.