By Sheikh Qayoom
Three young informants, Umar Javeed, Aaqib and Sukarma Thapar finally forced the tech giant, Google to cough up a whooping fine of Rs 1,338 crore for abusing its dominant position in multiple markets with its Android mobile operating system.
While Umar Javeed and Sukarma Thapar were then working as research associates with the CCI, Umar's younger brother Aaqib was then a law student in the University of Kashmir.
The CCI, the national competition regulator, is responsible for promoting competition and preventing activities that have an appreciable adverse effect on market competition in India.
Umar and Aaqib belong to the Valley. That Google was abusing its dominant position in multiple markets was the complaint filed by the three young informants in 2018.
The three young informants are all lawyers now, with Umar working at a public sector undertaking, Aaqib a practicing advocate in Delhi and Sukarma an independent consultant for law and policy.
Umar said that compiling evidence was a tough task because they only had access to consumer-facing information to support their cause.
"We can look at an Android phone and say there are some Google-owned apps that cannot be deleted even if we wanted to, but besides that, as consumers, we have little information on how exactly Android smartphone manufacturers and app developers are affected by the role Google plays in the Android ecosystem," he explained.
Aaqib said that the three of them were already interested in how the digital market was shaping up in India and how the policies and laws governing technology were influencing consumers and tech companies.
"There were many late nights and early mornings where we would just work throughout the night.
"I was still a law student then and helping these guys meant I was juggling research along with studying for exams and assignments," Aaqib said.
The process of compiling a comprehensive dossier of information was not easy and took about two months.
"We had to focus on our day jobs and then research for this later in the day. That is when we would have some free time," Sukarma said.
Then, events related to Google in Europe caught the trio's attention. "In July 2018, the European Commission (the EU's competition watchdog) imposed one of its largest fines on Google of 4.34 billion Euros for violating EU antitrust rules," Umar said.
After considering this information submitted by the three informants, the CCI launched an investigation in April 2019 into Google's conduct in the Android mobile device ecosystem which eventually resulted in the October 20 CCI judgment and fine.
In its response, Google had said it would review the competition watchdog's decision. "CCI's decision is a major setback for Indian consumers and businesses opening serious security risks for Indians and raising the cost of mobile devices for Indians."
Thanks to the whistle blown by these three informants, CCI has now tightened its noose around other big tech companies like Apple and Facebook after they were hauled up by European and Australian regulators.
CCI has, however, not been successful in going all out in such anti-competitive activities by these companies. Apart from the current penalties, Google also faces a probe from CCI in two other cases. CCI hopes that these cases will serve as a 'guidance note' for other companies which may be flouting competition rules.