What you need to know
- Germany's cartel office has opened investigations into Google Germany, Google Ireland, and Alphabet.
- The authority will take a close look at the search giant's data processing policy.
- One of the primary goals of the probe is to determine whether Google offers enough choice to its users on how their data is used.
Germany's antitrust watchdog, the Bundeskartellamt, has opened an investigation into Google to examine the search giant's data processing terms and "significance for competition across markets."
The Bundeskartellamt's probe will take a close look at Google's data processing terms to determine whether consumers using Google's services such as Search, YouTube, and Maps are given a sufficient choice as to how their data is used. Additionally, it will examine "the extent to which the terms provide Google with an opportunity to process data on an extensive cross-service basis" and how the terms apply to the processing of data obtained from third-party apps and websites.
The 10th amendment to the German Competition Act (GWB Digitalization Act), which came into force in January this year, enables the Bundeskartellamt to take action against the practices of large digital companies that are "of paramount significant for competition across markets" and prevent them from engaging in anti-competitive practices.
Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt, said in a statement:
An ecosystem which extends across various markets may be an indication that a company holds such a market position. 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, such as the Google search engine, YouTube, Google Maps, the Android operating system or the Chrome browser, the company could be considered to be of paramount significance for competition across markets.
Google plans to fully cooperate with the Bundeskartellamt, but denied the authority's claim that people are "forced" to use its best Android apps and services. In a statement sent to Android Central, Google spokesperson Ralf Bremer said:
People choose Google because it's helpful, not because they're forced to, or because they can't find alternatives. Consumers in Germany have enormous choice online and we give people simple controls to manage their information and limit the use of personal data. We will cooperate fully with the German Competition Authority and look forward to answering their questions.
The German antitrust watchdog has already initiated investigations against Facebook and Amazon based on the country's new competition law. In 2019, the antitrust authority prohibited Facebook from collecting data from third-party websites without consent from users. Facebook appealed against the decision, and the restrictions were reversed by a Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf. However, the order was overturned by Germany's highest court in June 2020. The case has now been referred to the European Court of Justice.