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Europe is officially going after Google for anti-competitive behavior with Android

Google has 12 weeks to respond.

Frederick Florin / AFP via Getty

A year ago, Europe’s competition watchdog proclaimed that it was weighing whether to bring charges against Google for its business terms with Android, its mobile operating system. On Wednesday, it leveled those charges.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Union competition commissioner, released the agency’s statement of objections, its charge sheet, noting that Google maintains its dominance with Android through “restrictive licensing practices.” At issue is the bundle of Google services, 11 apps the company requires hardware manufacturers to install on devices under its contracts.

“A majority of smartphone and tablet manufacturers use Android in combination with Google’s proprietary apps and services, such as Google Search, Google Play Store and Google Chrome,” the statement reads. “To be able to pre-install these applications and services on their devices, manufacturers need to obtain a license from Google. Google grants these licenses only under certain restrictive conditions.”

The charge sheet is not an official indictment of Google. Theoretically, the EU could plumb the issue and then decide to drop the charges. Or it could enter into a protracted back-and-forth (and potential legal battle) with the search giant — as it is with the other open charges, brought last year against Google for its comparative shopping service.

While that case involves Google’s core ads business, the Android case is potentially more worrisome for Google. That’s because it threatens the company’s critical presence on mobile devices, increasingly a part of Google’s revenue and its product direction.

“Our partner agreements have helped foster a remarkable — and, importantly, sustainable — ecosystem, based on open-source software and open innovation,” wrote Google SVP and General Counsel Kent Walker in a statement. “We look forward to working with the European Commission to demonstrate the careful way we’ve designed the Android model in a way that’s good for competition and for consumers.”

In negotiations with the EU, Google is likely to point a finger at the other mobile operating system colossus, Apple, which packages its devices with apps too. It will also point to Android’s openness, pointing out that mobile device makers can choose to ditch the system or pick a non-Google flavor of Android, such as operating system Cyanogen.

And Google’s mob of lawyers may argue that the company’s business model on Android — give it away for free, earn from the services attached — has driven the price of smartphones way down, improving competition rather than hampering it.

In the statement, Vestager also hinted that she may bring additional antitrust cases against Google for its image search services and ad position, something several in Brussels anticipated. She also stressed that the move today is an interim step; the company has 12 weeks to officially respond, and it is allowed to request an oral hearing to contest the charges.

Additional reporting by Noah Kulwin.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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