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In India, Google Could Face Another Antitrust Case

Sundar Pichai has a new headache in his home country.

Elena Ermakova / Shutterstock

The investigative arm of India’s Competition Commission, CCI, has filed a preliminary report with the agency arguing that Google abuses its position in search, posing a potential hurdle for Google’s expansion in one of its biggest markets and arriving as it fends off an antitrust suit in Europe.

The Economic Times first reported the news on Monday.

Google has an initial deadline of Sept. 10 to respond to the report. Other companies can weigh in as well. India’s antitrust commissioner will then decide whether to ignore the recommendations or act on them, filing formal charges as the European Union did in April.

India could, like the EU, levy a fine or push Google to alter its search results in the country.

“We’re currently reviewing this report from the CCI’s ongoing investigation,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “We continue to work closely with the CCI and remain confident that we comply fully with India’s competition laws.”

Regulators in India, like those in several other nations outside the U.S., have considered complaints from local businesses that Google exploits its leadership in Internet search. This CCI case has been brewing for three years. Should it proceed, Google may find an even more byzantine regulatory environment to navigate than in Europe, where it is facing a formal antitrust case and an investigation into Android.

And Google may have formidable foes against it in India. The Economic Times reported that the investigator’s report on Google received corroboration from several tech companies, including Microsoft, Facebook and Flipkart, India’s dominant e-commerce firm.

According to the Indian paper, the case rests on a familiar claim — that Google favors its properties in parallel searches, such as searches for shopping and for flights and hotel bookings, that are the basis for the EU suit — and a new one — that Google’s organic search results are influenced directly by how much companies spend on paid search ads.

That latter claim, according to the Economic Times, came from Flipkart. Reps from Flipkart and Facebook did not return requests for comment. Microsoft declined to comment. The CCI could not be reached.

There’s no guarantee that an official antitrust case will occur. In the past, the CCI has rejected multiple recommendations from its investigative arm.

Still, anything that hinders Google’s path in India is worrisome for the company.

Since most of its services are barred in China, India, the birthplace of its new CEO Sundar Pichai, is its largest potential market. The nation is expected to hit 500 million total Internet users by 2017 and 236 million mobile ones by next year, according to a recent report. Google is working to revamp Android One, its budget smartphone initiative that has had some hiccups, focusing in India on ways to cover the prohibitively high cost of mobile data.

Last week, Google filed its official response to the formal antitrust case in Europe, wherein the company called the charges inaccurate and said it would fight them.

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