News & Analysis

Google Faces Heat from Start-ups Now

An organization representing Indian start-ups has alleged that Google wasn't aligning itself to the antitrust body ruling over commission payments for use of Android OS

For some time now, Google has been in the eye of not one but multiple storms. What began as a penalty imposed by India’s antitrust regulator, went up to the Supreme Court, which refused to strike down the ruling causing Google to cough up money. All of this happened alongside the US Justice Department initiating legal proceedings around its monopoly over digital ads. 

In spite of the company’s elaborate blog post around the topic, which attracted more mirth than serious discussion, the courts in India ruled that Google should pay up over Rs.1000 crore as fine for its anti-competitive practices. Google actually claimed that removing monopoly would result in higher cost for smartphones. Just when we thought things were cooling off, an association representing start-ups in India said the new user-choice billing option proposed by Google wasn’t actually complying with the antitrust body’s orders. 

Start-up Foundation cries foul now

The Alliance for Digital India Foundation claims that the new system requires app developers to pay between 11 to 26% commission to Google. This, they say, is not in line with the Competition Commission of India’s direction that Google shouldn’t impose “any condition on app developers, which is unfair, unreasonable, discriminatory or disproportionate to the services provided.”

This comment came in the form of a note that ADIF circulated to its members following last week’s announcement from Google revolving around the changes to the way it proposed to operate Android and Google Play billing in India. Over two orders, the CCI had asked the company to make 20-odd changes in its operations and service delivery in the country.

What are the real issues they face?

These changes purportedly make it easier for equipment manufacturers such as smartphone companies to license individual Google apps for pre-installation on their handsets. These apps were pre-installed earlier on Android devices though now users can exercise an option to choose their own default engine among other things. 

Google would also update the backend to allow partners to build non-compatible or forked variants of Android while user choice billing options have been made available to all apps and games from February, the company said in a blogpost. 

However, the ADIF claims that Google has made available the alternative payment options only for the purchase of in-app digital content and not app downloads. The search giant has not responded to comments that it would not impose anti-steering provisions on app developers as highlighted in the order, the foundation says. 

ADIF further said that Google had not addressed the issue of giving freedom to OEMs for placing of the apps when it comes to their bundling on Android operating systems. “Google’s blogpost does not give any clarity on whether users will be able to easily change the default settings in their devices, in minimum steps possible,” it said adding that Google also does not clarify whether users would be able to change default settings easily. 

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