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Google stops enforcing Play store payment rules in India

$276 million in fines will do that to a monopolist

India’s Competition Commission last week fined Google a combined $276 million for monopolistic practices in the markets for app stores and mobile operating systems, and called for the company to open its Play store to third-party payment systems or risk further regulatory wrath.

Google has now kind-of complied with the demands by the Competition Commission (CCI), by indefinitely extending the deadline by which developers must comply with its payment requirements.

In 2020, Google tweaked its legalese to make it plain that developers must use its payment systems if they want their apps included in the Play store. In a market like India, where Apple holds tiny market share, that tweak meant developers were effectively forced into Google's world and the high fees it charges.

Google later extended the deadline for developers in India "due to unique circumstances with the payments landscape in the country."

That deadline was October 31 – last Monday, a handful of days after the CCI levied its twin fines.

Google announced the extension with additions to a support document that states it is "pausing enforcement of the requirement for developers to use Google Play's billing system … while we review our legal options and ensure we can continue to invest in Android and Play."

The prospect of Google not investing in Play or Android in India is tiny. The ads and search giant sees India as a critical growth market and co-created a special cut of Android for local mega-carrier Jio.

Google's support document also notes that it offers payment service choice in South Korea, has started testing third-party payments with Spotify, and allows alternative billing without user choice for non-game apps in the European Economic Area.

The company is also certainly aware of Epic Games' case against Apple over the former entity's desire to offer its own payments facilities, and numerous regulatory probes worldwide that are considering whether app store operators are unhelpful monopolies.

Pausing its compliance requirements in India is not, therefore, in any way an act of altruism. It is instead a reflection of local realities, as global policymakers are shunting Google and Apple towards opening their app stores to more payment players.

Whether the pause satisfies the CCI remains to be seen. ®

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