Fair trade regulator CCI claimed on Thursday that Google has created a digital data hegemony and called for a market space with “free, fair and open competition”.
Concluding the arguments of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) before the appellate body NCLAT in the Google case, Additional Advocate General N Venkataraman said that a market with more freedom for all players would be fully in sync with the principles of free competition rather than the Internet major’s “walled garden” approach.
On October 20 last year, the CCI imposed a fine of Rs. 1,337.76 crore on Google for anti-competitive practices related to Android mobile devices. The regulator had also ordered the internet major to stop various unfair trading practices.
This ruling has been appealed to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).
On Thursday, Venkataraman reported that Google had used its money-guzzling search engine as a “castle” and the rest of the other apps to play the defensive “moat” role. This “castle and moat” strategy is data hegemony, meaning that a large market player tends to get bigger and bigger while a small entrant struggles to reach a critical mass of users and user data.
According to him, data capture and deployment are misused and monetized as advertising revenue. When choice is the guiding principle of competition law, Google’s hegemony diminishes both choice and competition.
Venkataraman emphasized that the implementation of the CCI’s remedies would greatly contribute to a market with more freedom for all players, fully in line with the principles of free competition rather than the walled garden approach of Google.
Google’s abuse of dominance is evident in all the criteria set out in Article 4 of the Competition Act in terms of mandatory pre-installation, first-class placement and bundling of core apps. Such practices result in the imposition of unfair terms and additional obligations, he said.
He also pointed out that the tying of apps had enabled Google to use its dominant position in a relevant market to enter and protect other relevant markets.
In his remarks, Venkataraman mentioned that major data gateways such as GST and UPI, which hold data on millions of individuals and entities, are run for the public good by public institutions.
However, when it comes to private entities engaged in a digital venture with a steady, unstoppable flow of data and traffic, the same is ingeniously calibrated to the sole benefit of these entities. Competition law is an important pillar in the democratization of data and achieving the goal of the greatest good for the greatest number, he argued.
The NCLAT began its hearing in the Android case on Feb. 15, following a Supreme Court direction. The apex court had directed the NCLAT to rule on the appeal by March 31.
On January 4, a separate bank of the NCLAT issued a notice on Google’s plea, directing it to pay 10 percent of the Rs. 1,337 crore fine levied by the CCI. It had refused to suspend the CCI order and submit the matter for a final hearing on April 3, 2023.
This was challenged by Google in the Supreme Court, which also refused to suspend the CCI order, but directed NCLAT to rule on Google’s appeal by March 31.