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India's antitrust watchdog orders probe into Google in smart TVs suit

NEW DELHI, June 22 (Reuters) - India’s antitrust watchdog on Tuesday ordered an investigation into allegations that Alphabet Inc’s Google abused its Android operating system’s position in the country’s smart television market.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI), which last year began looking into a case filed by two lawyers against the U.S. tech giant, said its initial review found Google had breached certain anti-competitive laws.

The CCI said that based on information available, including submissions made by Google, it was “convinced that a case is made out for directing an investigation” by the CCI director general.

Google has denied wrongdoing. In a statement on Tuesday, it said the emerging smart TV sector in India was thriving in part due to Google’s free licensing model and said Android TV competed with several well-established TV operating systems.

“We are confident that our smart TV licensing practices are in compliance with all applicable competition laws,” a company spokesperson said.

Smart TVs, or WiFi-enabled TVs with apps for streaming services, are increasingly popular. Data from Counterpoint Research shows 8 million smart TV sets were sold in India in 2019, with three in five based on Google’s Android system.

Kshitiz Arya and Purushottam Anand, two Indian lawyers who filed the case, told Reuters they welcomed the probe, saying Google had restricted the development of many virtual goods and services.

The case will be Google's third ongoing antitrust investigation in India, where it faces a probe into its payments app and Android mobile operating system. Reuters reported here last week that an investigation into the smart TV case was likely soon.

The CCI in June 2020 began looking here into allegations that Google engages in anti-competitive practices by creating barriers for firms wanting to use or develop modified versions of Android for smart TVs, such as Amazon Fire TV's operating system.

The CCI order said Google occupied the “most significant” position in the relevant market of smart TVs and the initial probe had shown the U.S. firm curbed the ability of device-makers to sell devices operating on alternative versions of Android. (Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui and Aditya Kalra in NEW DELHI; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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