Article by MM Sharma, Head Competition Law & Policy Practice, Vaish Associates, Advocates, New Delhi, India

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) vide its order dated 29 January 2021 has dismissed an apparently speculative and mischievous information filed by a law student against Google's alleged leverage of its dominant position in Gmail to protect and promote its market position in the Google Meet Application. 

Background and allegations

It was alleged by one Mr. Baglekar Akash Kumar, a student at the University College of Law, Osmania University, Hyderabad that Google, which is a dominant player in the internet-related services and products, has integrated the Meet App into the Gmail App which amounts to abuse of dominant position by Google, viz.  use of its dominant position in one relevant market to enter into other relevant market as per Section 4(2)(e) of the Competition Act, 2002 ( the Act) . This sub section specifically relates to leveraging of dominance in related markets by dominant players.

Submissions by Google

Google, in its preliminary objection, questioned the locus standi of the Informant and "oblique motives" behind the Information and being unsubstantiated. On merits, Google objected to the claim of the Informant that Google is dominant worldwide in relevant markets for "internet related services and products", as there is no relevant market for internet related services and products and even if such market exists, Google would not be dominant in such a market. Further, Google also claimed that Gmail is not dominant in 'emailing and direct messaging" in India as it faces strong competition from a variety of messaging services, many of which have a comparable or superior position to Gmail. Adding functionality to the Gmail app is a product improvement that benefits Gmail users and prohibiting such product improvements only harms consumers. Other rivals (such as Facebook and Microsoft) offer similar functionality and introduction of a Meet tab on Gmail accounts is no more than Google meeting the competition for the purposes of the Act. Lastly, it was pointed out that even if Google were dominant in "email and direct messaging", introducing a Meet tab is not anti-competitive as Gmail users (a) are not compelled or coerced to use Meet, (b) can easily switch off the Meet tab, and (c) can use rival video-conferencing services and thus there was no foreclosure of rivals.

CCI's prima facie order

Decision on locus standi

CCI, rejected Google's preliminary objection on lack of locus standi and motives behind the Information, relying upon the Supreme Court judgment dated 15 December 2020 in  Samir Agrawal v. Competition Commission of India and Others.

Decision on merits

On merits, although CCI determined two relevant markets, one primary relevant market for "market for providing email services in India "and the secondary market for 'market for providing specialised video conferencing services in India'  but did not go into the question of dominance of Google in the primary relevant market. CCI held that regardless of whether Gmail is a dominant app or not in the relevant market of providing email services in India, the conduct of Google does not appear to violate the provisions of Section 4(2)(e) of the Act that is on allegations of leveraging, CCI noted  that the users of Gmail are not forced to necessarily use Google Meet, and there does not appear to be any adverse consequences on the users of Gmail for not using Google Meet, such as withdrawal of Gmail or any of its functionalities or other services that are so far being provided by Google. A Gmail user at his/ her 'free will' can use any of the competing VC apps.

CCI also noted that that anyone with a Google Account (not necessarily a Gmail User) can create an online meeting using Google Meet. Further, for creating a Google account, the user need not be a user of Gmail. He/she can use email ID created on any other platform for creating a Google account. Thus, Google Meet is available as an independent app outside the Gmail ecosystem also. Consumers are free to choose from an array of video-conferencing Apps such as Zoom, Skype, Cisco Webex, We Conference, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet would be competing with the like of such Apps for providing services. the integration of Meet tab within Gmail

Further CCI also considered the allegation from the perspective of imposition of supplementary obligations as provided under Section 4(2)(d) of the Act. It reiterated that the users have the choice to use either of the Apps with all their functionalities without necessarily having to use the other. Even though Meet tab has been incorporated in the Gmail app, Gmail does not coerce users to use Meet exclusively as submitted by Google and the consumers are also at freewill to use either Meet or any other VC app for video conferencing.

Accordingly, the Commission closed the case under Section 26(2) of the Act.

Originally published 02 May 2021

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