Italy's anti-trust body fines Google over $161 million for shutting out rival's smartphone app

The authority said Google had abused its market position by blocking an Enel X app for users of electric vehicles.
The authority said Google had abused its market position by blocking an Enel X app for users of electric vehicles.PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME (AFP) - Italy's anti-trust authority said on Thursday (May 13) it had fined Google more than €100 million (S$161 million) for excluding an e-mobility app developed by Enel from the US tech giant’s Android system.

For more than two years, Google has not allowed Enel’s JuicePass to operate on Android Auto – a system that allows apps to be used safely in cars – unfairly curtailing its use while favouring Google Maps, the regulator said on Thursday.

The regulator added it would require Google to make Enel X's app available on Android Auto, which mirrors features of an Android device, such as a smartphone, on a car dashboard screen.

The fine of €102,084,433.91 is for a violation of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that regulates monopolies and issues involving restriction of competition.

Italy found Google did not allow Enel X Italia to develop an Android Auto-compatible version of its JuicePass app. JuicePass offers services relating to recharging electric vehicles, such as finding the nearest charging station and reserving a space there.

"By refusing Enel X Italia interoperability with Android Auto, Google has unfairly limited the possibilities for end users to avail themselves of the Enel X Italia app when driving and recharging an electric vehicle," the authority stated.

"Google has consequently favoured its own Google Maps app," it added.

"The exclusion of the Enel X Italia app from Android Auto has been going on for more than two years, and if it were to continue, could permanently jeopardise Enel X Italia's chances of building a solid user base at a time of significant growth in sales of electric vehicles."

This, the body concluded, amounted to "an impoverishment of consumer choice and an obstacle to technological progress" that could influence the development of electric mobility.

The authority, as a result, said it had ordered Google to make available to Enel X Italia and other app developers app programming tools which are interoperable with Android Auto while adding it would monitor compliance of its ruling via an independent expert with whom Google would be obliged to cooperate.

Google “respectfully disagrees” with the antitrust regulator’s decision and will examine the documents to decide its next steps, a spokesman for Google in Italy said.

Google’s priority for Android Auto is to ensure safety while driving, with stringent guidelines on which apps it supports, he said.

“There are thousands of apps compatible with Android Auto, and our goal is to enable even more developers to make their apps available over time,” the spokesman said.

Enel acknowledged the decision, saying it was an important enabling factor for the growth of electric mobility in Italy.

“In accordance with this decision, a level playing field with Google apps will be granted for Enel X’s app, JuicePass, and in general for all recharging app developers,” it said.