The Competition Commission of India has ordered an investigation into Google for allegedly abusing the dominant position of its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals, two sources aware of the matter said.

The CCI last year started looking into the complaint, which is similar to the one Google faced in Europe that resulted in a $5-billion fine on the company.

In mid-April, the CCI decided there was merit in the accusations made in the complaint and ordered its investigation unit to launch a full probe, one of the sources with direct knowledge of the matter said. That decision, which was confirmed by the second source, has not been previously reported and the order calling the full investigation was not made public.

“It is a strong case for the CCI, given the EU precedent,” said the first source. “The CCI has (preliminarily) found Google abused its dominant position.”

The probe will be completed in about a year and Google executives will likely be summoned to appear before the CCI in coming months, the source said.

Unfair advantage

A Google spokesman said Android has enabled millions of Indians to connect to the internet by making mobile devices more affordable. Google looked forward to working with the CCI “to demonstrate how Android has led to more competition and innovation, not less”, the spokesman said.

The precise details of the complaint against Google could not be determined, but sources have said it is on the exact same lines as the case filed against the company in Europe.

In the EU case, regulators said Google forced manufacturers to pre-install Google Search and its Chrome browser, together with its Google Play app store, on Android devices, giving it an unfair advantage.

Google has appealed the order but, in a bid to quell EU antitrust concerns, last month said its Android device users in Europe would be able to choose rival browsers and search engines. Once a user downloads a rival search app, it also prompts them to change their default search engine in their Google Chrome browser, if they so wish.

Android, used by device makers for free, features on about 88 per cent of the world’s smartphones. In India, about 99 per cent of the smartphones sold this year used the platform, Counterpoint Research estimates. It remains possible that the CCI’s investigations unit could clear Google of any wrongdoing.

‘Search bias’

The CCI has powers to impose a penalty of up to 10 per cent of the relevant turnover of a company in the last three financial years if it is found to have abused its dominant position. In that case, Google’s earnings linked to its web browser and search engine could be considered to assess the fine, New Delhi-based antitrust lawyer Gautam Shahi said.

“They can either change their conduct in India voluntarily or let CCI investigate. Voluntary change in conduct may have an impact on the quantum of penalty, if it’s imposed,” said Shahi.

The investigation in India, however, is not the only antitrust trouble for the Mountain View, California-based company in its key market.

Last year, the CCI imposed a fine of $19.46 million on Google for “search bias” and abuse of its dominant position. It also found Google had put its commercial flight search function in a prominent position on the search results page.

Google appealed against that order, saying the ruling could cause it “irreparable” harm and reputational loss.