March 1, 2024

2 Korean Search Engines File a Complaint Against Google

The NHN Corporation, which owns Naver, the largest search portal, and Daum, the No. 2 portal, asked South Korea’s trade commission to investigate whether Google had improperly maneuvered to have Android preinstalled on most smartphones being sold in the country.

Android-based smartphones use Google as their default search engine, and NHN said in a statement that the preloading of Android had made it “virtually impossible to switch to another option” for Internet searching.

Worldwide, Android is expected to become the preferred operating system on smartphones. “For the vendors who made Android the cornerstone of their smartphone strategies, 2010 was the coming-out party,” Ramon Llamas, a senior research analyst with the International Data Corporation, said in a recent report.

“This year will see a coronation party as these same vendors broaden and deepen their portfolios to reach more customers, particularly first-time smartphone users,” the report said.

In its complaint, NHN said that Google, “through a marketing partnership with major smartphone producers,” had unfairly created “a new ecosystem” by offering the Android system free as a way to control the market.

Google denied the accusations, saying in a statement that “carrier partners are free to decide which applications and services to include on their Android phones.”

South Korean consumers are famous as early adopters, and most new phone buyers here are opting for smartphones. About two-thirds of all smartphones sold in South Korea last year were Android-based.

The Korea Communications Commission said last month that more than 10 million smartphones were registered in South Korea. In December 2009, 800,000 smartphones were in use.

Telecommunications analysts expect the number of smartphones in use in South Korea could reach 20 million by the end of the year.

Naver and Daum currently control more than 70 percent of the mobile Internet search market in South Korea, and it is technically possible to switch to their search applications on Android phones. That switch is not easy, however, and Naver and Daum said their applications could not be purchased as a preloaded option.

“Google, which has a 1 to 2 percent share in the fixed-line Internet search market here, has been the only program preloaded on smartphones,” Lee Byung-sun, a spokesman for Daum, told the Yonhap news agency in Seoul. “That can’t be the result of mobile carriers’ and manufacturers’ free choice.”

A longtime Google rival, Microsoft, lodged a similar antitrust complaint last month with the European Commission, asserting that Google was engaging in anticompetitive practices, both on the Web and in smartphone software. The European complaint accused Google of hampering Microsoft applications in connection with videos on YouTube, which is owned by Google.

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