European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager expressed concern about how Google requires handset vendors and operators to bundle Android apps onto smartphones.
Her comments, which came in a speech on how competition fosters innovation, follows a report last week that the commission may send a formal complaint to Google “within days”.
The EU opened a probe into Google’s Android activities in April last year.
The way that a startup with a popular app holds a disruptive potential for incumbents was a theme of her speech. Which is why the commission is “looking closely” at Google’s contracts with phone makers and operators, she said.
“When we take a new smartphone out of its box, we want it to be ready to go straight away. We expect the maker – or the network operator – to make sure the basic apps, like a search app, are pre-loaded before it gets to us,” said Vestager.
This set up gives innovative app developers a great opportunity, but also carries a threat for them.
“Our concern is that, by requiring phone makers and operators to pre-load a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers,” said the EU competition chief.
The distance between Brussels and the search giant was illustrated in comments made by Matt Brittin, Google’s president, EMEA business and operations. He told the Financial Times that EU officials were generally “good people that are trying to inform themselves about the world, and maybe could be better informed than they are”.
“There are some places in Europe and some interests in Europe where the first inclination is to protect the past from the future,” he added, comments that indicate a gap in understanding between the two sides.