South Korean search engines file complaint against Google

SEOUL — The two biggest Internet search engines in South Korea filed a complaint on Friday with South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission, charging that Google was blocking the installation of their services on smartphones pre-loaded with Google’s Android operating system.

The NHN Corporation, which owns Naver, South Korea’s largest search portal, and Daum, the second largest search portal, asked South Korea’s trade commission to investigate whether Google had improperly maneuvered to have Android pre-installed 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.

Google’s Android operating system currently locks out Naver and Daum, South Korea’s two biggest search engines. Samsung electronics. Photo Credit: Getty Images.

“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.”

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 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. However, that switch isn’t easy, since Naver and Daum said their applications could not be purchased as pre-loaded option.  

“Google, which has a 1 to 2 percent share in the fixed-line Internet search  market here, has been the only program  pre-loaded 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.”

Longtime Google rival Microsoft lodged a similar antitrust complaint last month with the European Commission, asserting that Google was engaging in anti-competitive 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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