A probe into Google’s presence in Russia that began earlier this year has concluded in a finding by the country’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) this week that the online giant is guilty of abusing its dominant market position by bundling its apps with the Android operating system.
In February, Yandex, Russia’s largest native search engine company, filed a complaint with the national competition watchdog over Google’s alleged abuse of its Android presence. Yandex cited smartphone vendors’ inability to preinstall Yandex services on their Android-based devices given Google’s requirement that in order to install Google Play, device manufacturers are required to set Google as the default search. In its lawsuit, Yandex said it believes that services like search, maps, and email should be unbundled from the device’s operating system in order to let other developers and services become options for users. The FAS looked into it, and has determined that Google is guilty of abusing its dominant market position, but not of performing unfair competition practices, according to The Wall Street Journal. The FAS has 10 business days to issue its full ruling, and Google will likely be sentenced to comply in the form of changing its agreements with phone vendors and developers and/or face a fine.
While Yandex is the more popular search engine in general in Russia, controlling more of the market than Google, the company is clearly focused on the growth of mobile (as it should be) and Google’s general dominance with the popularity of Android. With mobile use increasing over desktop use every day, Yandex wants to make sure it keeps a solid piece of the pie, and Russian authorities agree.
It’s been quite a year for U.S.-based internet companies in Russia. A brief block of Wikipedia in August sent Russian web users into a tizzy as the country’s internet watchdog required that one article be revised, resulting in some Russian internet service providers blocking the entire website. A few weeks ago, Moscow issued a rule requiring companies to store and process data about Russian users within the country’s borders, yet eased immediate pressure to do so by telling U.S. tech giants that it won’t be checking on whether or not they comply until January 2016. Even so, Facebook, Google, and Twitter either declared that they won’t be setting up in-country data centers or declined to reply to the mandate. (Brazil attempted and failed at a similar measure in 2014, involving Facebook and other U.S. tech companies, highlighting the difficulties governments have in regulating Silicon Valley.)
But these moves aren’t anything drastically new for Moscow. Last September, President Putin discussed steps Moscow might take to disconnect Russian citizens from the web “in an emergency,” such as bringing the domain .ru under state control. That move was just one of many that Putin has exerted in an attempt to rein in Russian cyber presence. Russia has also historically joined other pro-web censorship countries like Saudi Arabia and China in global meetings to wrest power away from U.S.-based groups like ICANN — an organization many other countries now see as an emblem of U.S. internet control. Russia’s problem with Google is just an example of its fight for cyber power.