The Supreme Court on Monday asked tech giant Google whether it will follow the same approach it took in Europe with regards to pre-installed apps on Android-based mobile phones.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by the Mountain View, California-headquartered company, seeking a stay on the ₹1,337 crore penalty levied by India's antitrust regulator.
A bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala asked this to Google after additional solicitor general N Venkataraman, appearing for the Competition Commission of India (CCI), said that Google had complied with a similar order passed by the European Commission.
"The contention that they cannot comply with 90 days deadline is wrong since a similar deadline has been adhered to in the European Union and they have been held to violate the dominant position. How can Indian consumers be differentiated as against the European consumer by Google," the ASG submitted.
Senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented Google, said that facts have been "misrepresented."
"Will Google practice the same regime in place in India as you have it in Europe? Please reflect on this and come back," the CJI said.
The matter will be heard again on January 18.
This comes two days after the Alphabet-owned company claimed that the directions issued by India's antitrust watchdog strike a blow at the ecosystem-wide efforts to accelerate digital adoption in the country.
"Foundational disruptions at this stage could set us back years and undo the deep investments and effort made by OEMs, developers and the industry overall," Google said in a blog post last week.
In October 2022, the CCI imposed a ₹1,337.76 crore penalty on the tech behemoth for abusing its dominant position in multiple markets in the Android mobile device ecosystem. "The mandatory pre-installation of the entire Google Mobile Suite under Mobile Application Distribution Agreement with no option to uninstall the same and their prominent placement amounts to imposition of an unfair condition on the device manufacturers," the antitrust watchdog had said.
The CCI order, according to Google, may promote unchecked proliferation of predatory apps which expose users to financial fraud, data theft and a number of other dangers abound on the internet.
This will also result in more expensive smartphones, says Google. "Since incompatible Android forks will not support the security and user safety features that Google provides, security responsibilities for these devices will instead fall to the OEMs, who will need to invest extensively in creating consistent, all-year-round security upgrades themselves. This will result in higher costs for the OEMs, and consequently, more expensive devices for Indian consumers," it says.
The number of annual app downloads in India reached a new high of 29 billion in 2022, making it the second biggest app market after China.