Google’s Billing Raises Hackles
How can something be as per a court’s directive and in blatant violation of it, both at the same time? Looks like Google has found a way to make this happen as the developer community is up in arms against the Android OS owners for permitting alternative billing but ensuring that the transactions happen via its own gateway.
On its part Google emailed developers telling them that post April 26, they would have to add alternative billing into the app alongside Google Play’s billing system to users in India for making in-app purchases on both smartphones and tablets. Incidentally, this was part of a lengthy list of recommendations made by the Competition Commission of India (CCI).
Developers are up in arms now
However, the developers think otherwise. They believe that what Google has done is actually a blatant violation of CCI guidelines. They claim that Google was finding loopholes in the CCI verdict and going the South Korea way. Google had introduced the same user choice billing in that country after coming under fire from the regulators.
This occurred in 2021 and in a blogpost Google’s senior director of public policy Wilson White had said developers in South Korea could add another in-app billing system. “At checkout, users will be able to choose which billing system to use,” he had explained then. So, what seems to be the problem in India, where Google appears to have done just that.
A report published in the ET quoted Snehil Khanor, co-founder and CEO of TrulyMadly.com to suggest that while CCI mandated third party payments, Google is ensuring that these are routed through them. This is exactly what they did in South Korea as well, says the official while pointing out that developers could make losses.
Google’s run-in with the CCI over Android
As a ready reckoner, readers would recall that the CCI had through two rulings directed Google to make about 20 changes in its operations that included the alternative payment option. “Google shall allow, and not restrict app developers from using any third-party billing/ payment processing services, either for in-app purchases or for purchasing apps. Google shall also not discriminate or otherwise take any adverse measures against such apps using third party billing/ payment processing services, in any manner,” the antitrust body had said.
Post this order, Google had announced five changes in January around the way it operates Android and Google Play billing in India. One of these resolved around expanding user choice billing to all developers. Google extended the timeline for apps to include these changes and also deferred enforcing 30% commission on in-app purchases of digital goods from its Play Store following pressure mounted by local developers.
The company also shared a blogpost to tell the world that the changes were on the anvil as per the compliance plan submitted to the CCI. “We are making some changes as required by the CCI’s directives. Implementation of these changes across the ecosystem will be a complex process and will require significant work at our end and, in many cases, significant efforts from partners, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and developers,” said the post.
Some experts hold the view that Google was going against the grain of the CCI order by charging app developers commissions of between 11 and 26%. With the new update, if a user pays through an alternate billing system, the Google Play service fee would come down by 4%. In other words, in spite of an alternative billing system, Google will continue charging service fees from the developers.