The officials at India’s competition watchdog have been chasing a 25 October deadline. On that day, Ashok Kumar Gupta, the chairperson of the Competition Commission of India (CCI), will retire from the post.
Gupta’s departure marks the end of an eventful four-year tenure. During his term, the antitrust regulator opened multiple cases to investigate alleged abuse of dominance by tech behemoths such as Google, Meta, and Apple.
The Ken has learnt that the CCI has completed hearings in two of these cases—both involving Google—and is set to release the final orders before Gupta’s retirement.
The rulings on the two cases will certainly have a bearing on how Google does business in the country. And aware of their significance, the global search giant has been preparing for it.
There are multiple ways in which companies like Google try to avoid the competition and regulatory risks. One way is to tweak products. Another is to take these cases head on and win based on merit, by putting top lawyers on the job. The final course of action goes through government intervention—reaching out to top functionaries and building a strong case for the firm’s long-term bet on India.
In line with the latter strategy, Google in May hired Archana Gulati, a former CCI advisor as the director for government affairs and public policy. However, it soon became apparent that she couldn’t provide the shield that Google needed amid the series of antitrust cases and stricter tech regulations. People in the company said she was let go in September.
Before joining Google, Gulati was a joint secretary at the government think tank, Niti Aayog, between 2019 and 2020. A career civil servant belonging to the Indian Post and Telegram Audit and Finance Services of the 1989 batch, Gulati also served in the CCI between 2014 and 2016. She ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for the post of CCI secretary in 2019.
Gulati’s departure came right when Google needed a policy team to jump into action in the middle of the two cases.
The first case awaiting ruling pertains to Google’s proposed plan to implement the mandatory use of its own billing system for in-app purchases on Google Play (previously Google Play Store). The hearing in this matter was completed by August.
The other case concerns Google’s abuse of dominance in the mobile-OS market—Android is the most popular mobile OS in the world. It is also loosely referred to as the Android bundling case.
Google allegedly compelled original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), such as Xiaomi and Samsung, to preinstall its apps—Google Search, web browser Chrome, video-streaming service YouTube, web-based email Gmail, etc.—and discouraged installation of third-party apps. Besides the Google-owned apps, the OEMs are allowed to only preinstall their own apps and app stores on their devices.