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Google Looks to Head off US Antitrust Lawsuit over Android

FILE - Google Android figurine sits on the welcome desk as employee Tracy McNeilly smiles at the new Google office in Toronto.
FILE - Google Android figurine sits on the welcome desk as employee Tracy McNeilly smiles at the new Google office in Toronto.

Google will try to persuade a U.S. judge on Thursday to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit over its Android smartphone operating system, as the Internet search company faces increased regulatory pressure from European authorities.

The hearing in San Jose, California, federal court is over the lawsuit filed by two smartphone consumers who say Google Inc requires Android handset manufacturers such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd to restrict competing apps like Microsoft Corp's Bing search, partly by making Google's own apps the default.

Google argues in its court filings that the proposed class action should be dismissed because consumers still are free to use the other apps. The plaintiffs counter that most consumers either do not know how to switch default settings, or will not go to the trouble.

Last month, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution urging antitrust authorities to break up Google. The lawmakers called on the European Commission to consider proposals to unbundle search engines from other commercial services.

4-year investigation

Google is the subject of a four-year investigation by the Commission, over allegations that it improperly manipulated search results to rank its own services higher than competitors. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who took over the post last month, said she would sample industry views and developments before taking any action.

Separately, Google's competitors including Microsoft filed a complaint with the European Commission over some of the same issues at play in the U.S. consumer lawsuit.

Google apps "are widely used on Android by requiring default placement and other mechanisms for disadvantaging competing apps," the companies said in a summary of their complaint.

Should U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman allow the class action to proceed, plaintiffs' attorneys would be allowed to delve into internal Google emails and contracts with smartphone companies, and could interview Google executives under oath.

"I'm confident we will get into juicy stuff, and I think that will up the pressure on Google as some of the material we discover becomes public," lawyer Steve Berman said in July. Google, however, said in filings that its deals with handset makers do not prevent rival search engines "from reaching consumers through the various distribution channels available to them."

The case is Gary Feitelson and Daniel McKee, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated vs. Google Inc, in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California No. 14-2007.

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