Google’s rivals are pushing US competition regulators to investigate whether it unfairly uses its Android mobile operating system to win online advertising.
The news comes a day after the EU announced a new competition investigation into Android after concluding another five year investigation by accusing Google of distorting search results to favour its own shopping service.
However, the meetings between Google critics and regulators apparently predate that announcement, according to two sources who told Reuters that a small number of technology companies have complained to the Department of Justice about the operating system.
The complaints centre around allegations that Google has pressured handset makers who want to use Android to give Google search, maps and other products a prominent place on their handsets and therefore direct more traffic through its services to generate advertising reveue.
One legal expert said it would be very hard for the US government to win a competition lawsuit involving Android though as it would have to show among other things that the agreements with phone makers severely restricted the ability of customers to substitute apps.
"This has been a recurring problem in these Google investigations: that the squawking has come mainly from competitors," said Herbert Hovenkamp, a law professor at the University of Iowa.
This would not be the first time Google has had a run in with US regulators. It reached a settlement in January 2013 with the US Federal Trade Commission over Web search allegations after agreeing to stop "scraping" reviews and other data from rival websites for its own products and to allow advertisers to export data to evaluate advertising campaigns independently.
But the discussions are also not necessarily indicative of pending action – regulators often speak with companies about fairness complaints without it leading to an investigation.
Google has also already successfully fought off a US civil suit involving Android after a federal judge in San Jose, California dismissed a consumer class action lawsuit alleging that the firm requires handset makers to make Google search the default on Android phones.
The claimants said this was designed to help Google stay dominant in search, but by forbidding competitors such as Microsoft to pay for prime placement on screens Google inflated the cost of Android phones for consumers.
However, US District Judge Beth Labson Freeman said the lawsuit uncovered no evidence that Google's conduct "prevented consumers from freely choosing among search products or prevented competitors from innovating” and ruled that the allegations consumers were harmed were "too speculative" for the lawsuit to proceed.
The plaintiffs have since withdrawn the case. Their attorney could not immediately be reached for comment about whether they would try to refile the suit in light of the European announcement.
One prominent lawyer who has spent much of the past decade fighting the firm told a panel discussion hosted on Wednesday by anti-Google industry coalition Fair Search – which includes Microsoft, Expedia and Nokia – that more companies are likely to reach out to regulators in coming months.
Gary Reback , attorney at Carr Ferrell, said "Stay tuned on Android. There are going to be more complaints from apps people.”