Japan Launches Antitrust Probe into Google Search

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Japan’s competition watchdog on Monday said it would start investigating Google’s possible breach of antimonopoly laws in web search services, following similar steps taken by authorities in Europe and other major economies. The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) said it would investigate whether Google violated the country’s Antimonopoly Act by returning part of its revenues to Android smartphone makers on the condition that they not install rival search engines. The JFTC’s antitrust division will carry out the investigation.

The probe is a further blow for the internet giant owned by Alphabet Inc., which is already facing an antitrust trial in the United States centered on allegations that it uses its dominance in the mobile operating system market to block competitors. The Japanese probe will primarily focus on whether the company improperly asked smartphone manufacturers to prioritize its search services in the devices, a JFTC official said, confirming a Nikkei report. The agency will solicit information and opinions from the public as part of the inquiry.

In its statement, Google denied any wrongdoing and noted that its open ecosystem helps smartphone makers and other partners design devices and software catering to users in different regions. It also said it has worked with governments, including Japan, to support the Android software ecosystem. It added that it will continue to work with governments and industry to support a diverse range of hardware and software products.

It is a reversal from last year when the JFTC sided with other European antitrust regulators that imposed a record 4.35 billion euros ($5.8 billion) fine on Google for unfairly blocking competitors in mobile search services. It is the most significant penalty ever imposed by antitrust regulators on a single technology company. The decision marked the culmination of years of scrutiny of Google and other global tech giants by antitrust authorities, who have been trying to rein in the power of big technology firms reshaping consumer markets.

The European Union investigation against Google has focused on whether the firm used its dominant position in online search to artificially promote its services and prevent rivals from gaining share in the market at a time when consumers were shifting from desktop computers to mobile devices. In the United States, an antitrust trial involving Google has dragged on for over three years with high-profile testimonies from Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella and Apple Inc dealmaker Eddy Cue.

The probe into Japan’s claims will be led by a special division of the antitrust bureau at the Ministry of justice responsible for competition law. It has yet to be determined how long the investigation will take. JFTC Commissioner Hiroyuki Asada, a former lawyer for the Tokyo District Court, was appointed to lead the probe. He has been involved in several high-profile cases involving large companies, including a case against former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama for bribery and illegal procurement.

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