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Google hit with antitrust complaint in South Korea

by Phil Hornshaw

Google’s Android mobile operating system is a big hit all over the world, but Google is facing some legal action over its open-source OS. And this time it’s not from another tech company with something like a patent dispute -- it’s from South Korea. The country.

Bloomberg is reporting that Google (GOOG) faces an antitrust investigation in the country following claims that Google is blocking companies using Android on their mobile phones from using mobile search services other than Google’s. NHN Corp. and Daum Communications Corp., the companies behind South Korea’s two largest Internet search service providers, “said in statements today they filed complaints against Google with the country’s Fair Trade Commission for blocking local phone carriers and manufacturers from embedding their search applications in devices using the Android operating system,” according to the story.

Google, of course, denied the claim and a spokeswoman said that Google would be cooperating with the South Korean FTC on the complaints.

The two South Korean search companies claim that Google has written the ban into service contracts with mobile carriers, disallowing third-party search applications to be run on Android. The complaint says that Google also drags its feet on certifying the Android software in handset makers’ phones if they don’t comply with the ban.

Apparently, Google has a lot of ground to make in South Korea, where it controls only 1 or 2 percent of the search engine market share. Another 90 percent is dominated by Daum and NHN. The world over, however, Google remains the No. 1 Internet search company.

It’s tough being number one, apparently. The Bloomberg article goes on to cite unnamed sources here in the U.S., claiming that the U.S. FTC is currently looking into Google’s business practices and its dominance as a web search engine. Probes are also being conducted in Europe and Texas over Google’s business practices.

And then there are the many Android-related lawsuits that Google is dealing with at any given time. It’s still embroiled in a copyright dispute with Oracle (ORCL) over its Java source code which Google allegedly hijacked for use in Android. And Microsoft (MSFT) has patent claims against Android and Google, the latest of which targeted Barnes & Noble (BKS) over its Android-powered Nook tablet.

Lots of legal action isn’t necessarily evidence of wrongdoing -- tech companies seem to constantly be chucking lawsuits each other’s way, and you can look at Apple (AAPL) for a great example of disputes both incoming and outgoing -- but Google’s troubles in South Korea could spiral if they other countries and agencies start to benefit from the investigation.

Whether that affects Android’s meteoric rise in the smartphone market during the next year, though, remains to be seen.