South Korea’s top two Internet companies asked the country’s antitrust watchdog Friday to investigate Google Inc.’s alleged practice of stifling competition in the country’s mobile search market.
NHN Corp., the operator of Naver, South Korea’s most-visited Web search engine and Daum Communications Corp., the Web search runner-up, separately filed complaints against Google with the Fair Trade Commission, they said in statements. The Korean companies claimed that Google exploited its position as the Android mobile operating system developer to preload its own mobile search programs on smartphones sold in Korea.
Its practice deprived local search engine operators of the equal opportunity to preload their applications on smartphones and limited choices for consumers, they argued.
South Korea’s smartphone market, which many see as the next big battleground for advertising money, has been one of the fastest growing in the world with more than 10 million smartphone users, or 20 percent of the wireless market, as of last month.
With the explosive growth of smartphones, Google’s Android OS also gained ground. Mobile devices running on the Android platform accounted for 66 percent of South Korea’s smartphone market last year, from 4 percent in the previous year.
South Korea is one of the few countries where Google’s search business has long struggled. Three top players dominate 90 percent of the local search market where Google has never taken more than 5 percent share.
The U.S. search giant, however, has posted more than a 10-fold growth in the mobile search engine market as of late as advanced, feature-packed mobile gadgets have become popular in Korea.
“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,” said Lee Byung-sun, a spokesman at Daum. “That can’t be the result of mobile carriers and manufacturers’ free choice.”
The U.S. company allegedly struck deals with domestic mobile carriers and mobile manufacturers that ban them from preloading rivals’ services on smartphones, according to NHN and Daum.
“Google did create a new ecosystem by offering the Android mobile OS free, but it is not fair to use the OS as a tool to restrict market competition,” NHN’s statement said.