Competition in the mobile era

In the personal computer era, it took broadband connection and sophisticated technical skills to change operating systems or programmes. When Microsoft bundled software onto its dominant Windows, consumers found it almost impossible to avoid using its services. European trustbusters cracked down, first in 2004 and then in 2007, imposing billions in fines. In the mobile phone era, does the same tie-in exist, and if so, does it harm consumers? At a recent event of the CEPS Digital Forum, on May 31st, London-based King’s College law professor Renato Nazzini answered with a resounding no. In his view, mobile phones operate in a different, less locked-in world than personal computers. Download his presentation here. The ensuing debate was far from a typical academic legal affair: participants pointed out that its outcome will have a strong impact on the future of the digital world. In 2016, the European Commission issued a statement of objections against Google, arguing that its mobile Android operating system may be abusing a dominant position. Just like Microsoft imposed terms on personal computer makers, the Commission believes that Google forces smartphone manufacturers to take its Google apps - preventing them from selling devices that use operating systems that compete with Android and from introducing competing apps and services. While the debate failed to provide definitive evidence to the question of Google’s guilt or innocence, the participants did underline both the large stakes and difficult issues at stake.