Regulators raid Google’s Seoul offices

Google’s offices in Seoul have been raided by South Korean regulators, in the latest indication of the spreading international antitrust investigations into the internet search giant.

The operation by regulators on Tuesday follows allegations earlier this year from two Korean internet companies that Google unfairly uses its Android operating system to block competitors to its search and other services on smartphones.

A person familiar with the raid said the investigation related to complaints from “domestic search engines such as NHN and Daum”.

While two people familiar with the situation said the company’s offices had been visited by the Korea Fair Trade Commission, Google itself refused to confirm the raid. In a statement, though, it said it would “work with the KFTC to address any questions they may have about our business”. On Wednesday, Google Korea reiterated its parent’s stance.

Corporate raids by anti-trust regulators are not uncommon in South Korea, and cases foreign companies tend to result in minor fines or slapped wrists rather than any more serious penalty.

Earlier this year, the police searched Google’s offices as part of a probe into whether the internet search giant illegally collected location data from Android-based smartphone users in the country. That followed a police raid last year as authorities investigated possible privacy violations related to the company’s collection of data for Google’s StreetView mapping and photographic service.

Google’s dominance of the search business has come under scrutiny over the past year, with investigations launched in both Brussels and Washington, although those inquiries are thought to be far wider than the Korean review.

In April, NHN, owner of Naver, the country’s leading search engine, and Daum Communications complained to the KFTC that Google had put pressure on smartphone makers and mobile operators to prevent them preloading services from rival companies.

Android smartphones came with Google’s search service “installed as a default navigation tool, while they are systematically designed to make it virtually impossible to switch to another option”, NHN argued at the time.

Google countered on Tuesday that Android was an “open platform”, adding: “Carrier and [handset] partners are free to decide which applications and services to include on their Android phones. We do not require carriers or manufacturers to include Google Search or Google applications on Android-powered devices.”

One person familiar with the raid compared Google’s power over handset makers that use Android to the influence that Microsoft once wielded over PC manufacturers that depend on Windows. The software giant was eventually found to have abused its monopoly position. While Android does enjoy the same market share on smartphones that Windows has on PCs, it has emerged as the widely used handset software, and the leading rival to Apple’s iOS.

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