Germany launches proceedings against Google under new competition laws

Germany’s antitrust body, the Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt), announced on Tuesday that it was launching an investigation against Google over its alleged use of anti-competitive practices.

The investigation will be carried out based on new competition rules which came into effect earlier this year, giving Bundeskartellamt more powers to legislate against big tech firms.

The regulator said that it will examine Google’s significance for competition across markets and the terms of its data processing terms to determine whether the company offers enough choice to consumers who use its digital services such as YouTube, Search, Chrome and Maps, on how their data will be used.

It will also look into the extent to which Google’s terms provide the firm with an opportunity “to process data on an extensive cross-service basis” and how those terms apply to the processing of users data collected through third-party apps and websites.

Bundeskartellamt president Andreas Mundt believes that Google currently enjoys a strategic market advantage due to its established access to data relevant for competition.

“An ecosystem which extends across various markets may be an indication that a company holds such a market position,” Mundt said.

“It is often very difficult for other companies to challenge this position of power. Due to the large number of digital services offered by Google… the company could be considered to be of paramount significance for competition across markets.”

As part of the probe, Bundeskartellamt will examine European units of Google in Germany and Ireland, as well as its parent firm, Alphabet Inc., in California.

Google said it will cooperate fully with the regulator, but rejected Bundeskartellamt’s claim that users are forced to use its services and Android apps.

“Consumers in Germany have enormous choice online and we give people simple controls to manage their information and limit the use of personal data.” Google spokesman Ralf Bremer said in a statement to Android Central.

This is the third investigation started by Bundeskartellamt based on the new competition law. The watchdog initiated a similar proceeding against American retail and cloud giant Amazon last week over the alleged use of anti-competitive practices. If the investigation finds that the Amazon is exploiting its market dominance, the regulator could use the new laws to prohibit any antitrust practice at an initial stage.

The regulator is also conducting two other proceedings against Amazon, based on rules that were already in place before the latest amendment to the antitrust law.

Bundeskartellamt also launched a similar probe into social media platform Facebook in January, shortly after the amendment to the law came into effect.

Earlier this month, Germany’s lead data protection regulator, Der Hamburgische Beauftragte für Datenschutz und Informationsfreiheit (HmbBfDI), also used an emergency GDPR procedure to prevent Facebook from collecting and processing personal data from WhatsApp, for the next three months.

HmbBfDI said Facebook’s new privacy policy is illegal and in violation of European data protection rules.

The regulator is now seeking an EU-wide order from the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), whose members include regulators from the bloc’s 27 member states.

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