CCI Dismisses Allegations of Abuse of Dominance against Google

On January 29, 2021, the CCI dismissed allegations of abuse of dominance against Google LLC and its subsidiary, Google India Digital Services Private Limited (collectively, ‘Google’).[1]  The informant, in this case, alleged that Google, a dominant player in internet-related services and products, has integrated the Meet App (a video-conferencing app of Google) into the Gmail App (which as per the informant enjoys a dominant position in the e-mailing and direct messaging market), which amounted to abuse of dominant position by Google, viz. use of its dominant position in one relevant market to enter into another relevant market.

At the outset, the CCI rejected the informant’s delineation of the relevant market as the ‘e-mailing and direct messaging market.’ Relying on the CCI’s analysis in the case of Re: Harshita Chawla and WhatsApp Inc. & Ors.[2], the CCI reiterated the differences between e-mailing and direct messaging services, such as (i) e-mail services do not exhibit any network effects, i.e., a user of Gmail can send emails to a user of any other email service provider, viz. Yahoo, Outlook, etc., unlike in the case of direct messaging services like WhatsApp, as a user of WhatsApp can send messages only to another user of WhatsApp and no other messaging platform; (ii) e-mail services are primarily used for formal communications whereas direct messaging services are used for informal messaging or personal chat; (iii) WhatsApp-like services have in-built features to record audio/video messages whereas e-mail services do not, etc. Accordingly, the CCI delineated the primary relevant product market as the ‘market for providing e-mail services.’

In relation to the relevant market in respect of which the allegations of leveraging had been made, the CCI rejected Google’s argument comparing Google Meet with video-conferencing (‘VC’) offered by WhatsApp, Truecaller, Facebook messenger, Instagram, etc. The CCI noted the difference in scale and functionalities such as sharing of screen, etc. and observed that the number of participants allowed in VC by such apps is very limited, and so is the utility of these apps for video conferencing. A more appropriate comparison for Google Meet would be Zoom, Skype, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, etc. Therefore, the appropriate secondary relevant product market in terms of the functionalities was held to be the ‘market for providing specialised video conferencing services’.

The relevant geographic market was considered to be the whole of India as conditions of competition are homogeneous.

In relation to Google’s dominance, the CCI noted Google’s contention that it was not dominant in the market for e-mailing and direct messaging in India, as well as the fact that the informant had failed to place on record any substantive material to support his contention regarding Google’s dominance. With respect to leveraging, the CCI noted that the users of Gmail are not forced to necessarily use Google Meet, and there were no adverse consequences for the users of Gmail for not using Google Meet (such as withdrawal of Gmail or any of its functionalities, etc.). A Gmail user was free to use any of the competing VC apps, such as Zoom, Skype, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, etc. Further, anyone with a Google account (not necessarily a Gmail user) can create an online meeting using Google Meet. Thus, Google Meet is available as an independent app outside the Gmail ecosystem also.

The CCI also assessed the integration of the Meet tab within Gmail from the perspective of the imposition of supplementary obligations as provided under Section 4(2)(d) of the Act. Observing that even though the Meet tab has been incorporated in the Gmail app, Gmail does not coerce users to use Meet exclusively, and the consumers were free to use either Meet or any other VC apps, the CCI did not find any prima facie case against Google. Accordingly, the CCI dismissed the information.

 

[1] Case No. 29 of 2020, Order dated January 29, 2021.

[2] Case No. 15 of 2020, Order dated August 18, 2020.

Published In:Inter Alia Special Edititon - Competition Law - March 2021 [ English
Date: March 15, 2021