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Watchdog acquits Google of competition-hurting charges

SEJONG, July 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's antitrust watchdog has decided to acquit Google Inc. of charges filed by local portal operators that it had hurt fair market competition by forcing smartphone makers to "preload" its search engine on their handsets, a watchdog official said Thursday.

NHN Corp. and Daum Communications Corp., the country's two major Internet portal operators, filed complaints with the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) in April 2011, accusing Google of hurting fair market competition by obliging mobile phone makers to preload its search engine when offering its Android operating system to those producers.

In the complaints, the two local portal giants argued that Google's preloading requirement allowed its search engine to be opened first on Android phones, forcing other search engine providers out of market and eventually undermining fair competition rules.

The FTC had reviewed the case and came to the conclusion to dismiss the charges, saying that Google's preload requirement does not restrict market competition as argued by NHN and Daum Communications.

"Before and after Google's push to force the preload of the Android operating system, its domestic market share remains almost unchanged at around 10 percent, while Naver (the portal of NHN) still maintains more than 70 percent," an FTC official said on condition of anonymity.

"This does not satisfy the competition-restricting condition, which is one of the major issues of this case."

   He added that the FTC made the decision also based on the fact that mobile phone users can easily find alternatives to Google's search engine by downloading applications provided by NHN and Daum.