Google opens Play Store to third party payment systems – starting with Spotify

Did lessons learned from South Korea make it all less scary?

Google has revealed a shift of policy that means it is inclined to allow third-party party payment systems access to its Play Store.

The digital dominator announced a pilot in select countries that "will allow a small number of participating developers to offer an additional billing option next to Google Play's billing system."

Google has already lined up a crash test dummy willing "to explore different implementations of user-choice billing": audio streaming giant Spotify, which will introduce Google Play's billing system alongside its own.

Google reckons the pilot will help it understand how user-choice billing works in varying countries, and for developers of varying persuasions and sizes.

Details of what's on offer are vague. Google says it will "share more in the coming months." Spotify added a little more, revealing its work with Google involves a multi-year agreement and the company anticipates "launching the first iteration of user-choice billing later this year."

Google's position on opening up is that "alternative billing systems meet similarly high safety standards in protecting users' personal data and sensitive financial information" when compared to the ad giant's own approach to payments.

"When users choose Google Play, it's because they count on us to deliver a safe experience, and that includes in-app payment systems that protect users' data and financial information," the company stated.

Google, of course, is not doing this out of the goodness of its heart.

Debate over app store and in-app payment monopolies have bubbled along for years, but fired up in 2020 when Epic Games challenged Apple over its requirement to use its own payment systems for in-app payments. The pair remain involved in a vivid legal battle over the ordeal, with Epic Games making claims of antitrust violations against the iPhone maker.

Apple did relax its grip over its iOS ecosystem in November 2020 by halving its commission for small developers to 15 per cent. Google dropped its fees from 30 to 15 per cent in October 2021 for everyone.

In September of 2021, South Korea took aim at Apple and Google and passed a law that prevents tech giants with dominant market positions restricting payment options in their software.

Google complied with the new law, after some minor grumbling over security issues, while Apple dragged its feet claiming it was already compliant until January 2022 – when Korea's regulatory body started punishing violators.

In its Wednesday announcement, Google credited its experiences in South Korea as having helped develop the pilot. It referred to the new program as "building on [its] recent launch allowing an additional billing system alongside Play's billing for users in South Korea."

The company also referred to the new embrace of third-party payments as "in line with [its] principles."

That Google believes it has principles may also be news for some. ®

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