Competition Commission of India dismisses allegations against Google relating to abuse of dominant position
The Commission said 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
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has directed that the Information filed under Section 19(1)(a) of the Competition Act, 2002 (Act) by Baglekar Akash Kumar (Informant) against Google LLC (OP-1) and Google India Digital Services Private Limited (Google Digital Services/OP-2) alleging a contravention of the provisions of Section 4(2)(e) of the Act be closed forthwith in terms of the provisions contained in Section 26 (2).
The CCI judgement was delivered on 29 January 2021.
The Informant stated that Gmail is an App from Google, where the users get all their emails, direct messages, etc., and that Gmail enjoys a 'dominant position' in the emailing and direct messaging market. It was also alleged 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 an abuse of dominant position by Google, viz. use of its dominant position in one relevant market to enter into other relevant markets as per Section 4(2)(e) of the Act.
It was submitted by Google that the claim of the Informant that Google is dominant worldwide in relevant markets for "internet-related services and products" is without any evidence and foundational basis, as there is no relevant market for inter-related services and products and even if such market exists, Google would not be dominant in such a market.
Further, 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.
The Commission noted that the Informant has clubbed both emailing services (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc.) as well as direct messaging services (e.g. WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.) in one relevant market. However, both of these communication services exhibit different features and are thus, used for different purposes.
This is not the case with direct messaging services like WhatsApp as a user of WhatsApp can send messages to only a user of WhatsApp. In view of this, the Commission was of the view that the primary relevant product market should be the 'market for providing email services'.
The Commission was also of the view that the appropriate secondary relevant product market in terms of the functionalities would be the 'market for providing specialised video conferencing services'.
Further, the relevant geographic market will be considered as the whole of India as conditions of competition are homogeneous. Accordingly, the relevant markets for the purpose of assessment of the present case would be 'the market for providing email services in India' and 'the market for providing specialised video conferencing services in India'.
The Commission was of the opinion 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 did not appear to violate the provisions of Section 4(2)(e) of the Act.
In relation to the allegations of leveraging, the Commission 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.
It was also affirmed that 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 Commission also assessed the integration of Meet tab within Gmail from the perspective of the imposition of supplementary obligations as provided under Section 4(2)(d) of the Act. The Commission pointed out that 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. Hence, no case was made out against OPs for contravention of the provisions of Section 4 of the Act.