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Meet the three attorneys who reported to CCI about Google’s anti-competitive agreements

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India Today contacted the trio about the work behind CCI’s brief. Umar, after 5 years at CCI, currently works with a PSU. Sukarma has also worked with CCI and now practices independently. Aqib finished his LLM a year ago and filed a lawsuit.

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Google fined crores for anti-competitive agreements (File)

By Sreya Chatterjee: In 2018, three lawyers, Umar Javed, Sukarma Thapar and Aaqib Javed, pointed out Google’s anti-competitive agreements to the Competition Commission of India (CCI). Based on this information, the CCI filed a prima facie case against Google in 2019, leading to CCI issuing an injunction against Google on October 20, 2022, imposing a fine of Rs 1,337.76 crore under Section 27 of the Competition Act , 2002. India Today reached out to the trio about the work that went behind CCI’s brief. Umar, after 5 years at CCI, currently works with a PSU. Sukarma has also worked with CCI and now practices independently. Aqib finished his LLM a year ago and filed a lawsuit.

Why did you all investigate the case and classify the case as informants at CCI?

Umar: I am interested in the field, studying developments in digital laws. So when the EU injunction came against Google in 2018, we knew that similar issues were common in the Indian market. This is one of the main reasons why, as an Indian tech enthusiast, I was interested in studying the developments.

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Sukarma: It is important to mention that the CCI system works very differently. It is not the case that every complaint is processed. We inform the CCI as consumers, it is then up to the CCI to decide whether the information is truthful and as a result they file the case. I was working with CCI for 3-4 months at the time, and so was Umar, but we flagged the problem as informants, as consumers.

Aaqib: We were all three Android users. So when you see that when we buy a new Android phone, there are pre-installed apps and we can see that users couldn’t uninstall these built-in apps. We could see that Google’s search engine appeared at the top and that Google Chrome was automatically preset as the default search engine option. This led to a few people not using other competing browsers like Opera and Mozilla Firefox.

Google is a big giant. When you prepared for the case, were you aware of the consequences?

aqib: When we filed the charges, we knew the impact would be huge. Google dominates the Indian market and therefore there will be an impact. Startups are unable to invent their own service infrastructure. There are competent people who can develop better operating systems and better apps, but there were barriers to them.

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Can you explain in layman’s terms what’s going on in the first place?

aqib: Device manufacturers that use Google’s operating system, Android must enter into agreements to purchase their other services as a package. Even if a manufacturer doesn’t require the said app, they don’t have an option to choose. YouTube is pre-installed for Android users in India, which is why the platform has become so popular here.

Don’t you think it’s also the job of the device manufacturers to inform their consumers?

Umar: At some point, the manufacturers also have to step up and let their users know what they are buying. Only then can they explore options.

Has the order led to digital literacy?

Umar: Personally, I don’t think people in India are aware of their choices. I believe people should not be dictated to, and it is my personal observation that people in India are not even aware of alternative browser options.

Sukarma: Digital literacy has improved; the government is running multiple awareness campaigns and people are starting to question the western pattern of consumerism. Western consumerism must shift, we must be consumer aware. Our technology industry and app developers are skilled at making products that can provide competition for Google, but all they need is an opportunity and that’s where the regulator steps in.

What now? In all likelihood, Google will appeal. Do you think they will find a way out? They could probably say that limits are set for security reasons?

Sukarma: I think the nuances of the verdict will be appealed. But the vision must be seen as a whole. The smallest directions in the sequence are progressive.

Umar: As for the risk factor, one can just put down checks instead of blocking options.

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