App Store War: Google's Enforcement Sparks Clash with Indian Startups

Will Google's enforcement of App Store Billing Policies escalate the clash with Indian startups? The tech giant's move sparks protests as startups resist delisting, prompting a broader industry examination. Will this alter the dynamics of app development?

Swati Dayal
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Google Vs Startup

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The ongoing battle between tech giant Google and Indian tech startups over in-app billing for Google Play Store is showing no signs of resolution. In a recent development, Google has decided to escalate its efforts by enforcing its App Store Billing Policies, leading to the delisting of non-compliant apps from its Play Store. This move by Google signifies a shift from negotiation and accusations to a more forceful approach.

What is Google's Enforcement Stand?

Google, a tech behemoth, is firm in its stance regarding the enforcement of its App Store Billing Policies. The company asserts that no court or regulator has contested Google Play's right to charge for the value and services it provides. In an official statement, Google argues that allowing a small group of developers to receive differential treatment creates an uneven playing field, putting other apps and games at a competitive disadvantage.


"After giving these developers more than three years to prepare, including three weeks after the Supreme Court’s order, we are taking necessary steps to ensure our policies are applied consistently across the ecosystem, as we do for any form of policy violation globally," states Google in a blog post.

The company refrains from naming the non-compliant apps but emphasizes its commitment to enforcing policies uniformly.

How Did Startups Respond?

Meanwhile, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), a tech industry body, has taken a proactive step by constituting a task force to address the issue. 

Murugavel Janakiraman, the Bharat Matrimony founder and task force chairperson, outlines their initial focus on the Google Play Billing System (GPBS) and intellectual property-related matters. He emphasizes that the task force will later examine broader concerns surrounding the alleged abuse of dominance by Big Tech firms in India.


"The task force will be looking at the Google Play Billing System (GPBS) and IP-related matters to begin with, and then will look at the broader concerns surrounding Big Tech and their abuse of dominance in India," said Murugavel Janakiraman.

Approximately 30 Indian startups, facing potential delisting, have reached out to Google, requesting a temporary reprieve until March 19, the date when their Special Leave Petition (SLP) is scheduled for a hearing. This plea comes after the Supreme Court's refusal on February 16 to restrain Google from delisting apps that do not comply with its billing policy.

What is Google's Justification and Warning?

Google, in its blog post on Friday, reiterates its position by highlighting that no court or regulator has challenged its right to charge for services. The company underscores the Supreme Court's decision on February 9, refusing to interfere with its billing policy. Google emphasizes that some developers have adjusted their business models, while others resist compliance.

The blog explicitly states that enforcement may involve the removal of non-compliant apps from Google Play. However, developers can resubmit their apps by choosing from three billing options: operating on a consumption-only basis without a service fee, integrating Google Play's billing system, or offering an alternative billing system alongside Google Play’s for users in India.

"Google went on to say in its blog on Friday that no court or regulator has denied Google Play’s right to charge for the value and services it provides. It added that on February 9, the Supreme Court refused to interfere with its right to do so and said that while some of the developers that were refused interim protection have started fairly participating in their business model and ecosystem, "others choose to find ways to not do so."

"Allowing this small group of developers to get differential treatment from the vast majority of developers who are paying their fair share creates an uneven playing field across the ecosystem and puts all other apps and games at a competitive disadvantage," Google said.

Google's Investment and IAMAI's Task Force

Google underscores its significant investment in supporting Indian developers, contributing to the Android and Play ecosystem, which collectively supported over 2.5 million jobs in India in 2022. The company argues that its success is a result of the investments made in platforms, tools, and resources that empower developers and safeguard users across the ecosystem.

"This success is a result of the investments we have made in our platforms, tools, and resources that have enabled developers to thrive. This also helps us invest in protections to safeguard users across the ecosystem, even for apps downloaded from outside of the Play Store," Google said.

IAMAI's task force, distinct from the one formed in September last year, indicates a shift in approach since Indian founders joined the governing council. The task force aims to engage with government officials and policymakers, working towards policies that benefit the startup ecosystem. Murugavel Janakiraman mentions that a white paper will be developed to analyze the impact of Big Tech's policies on the Indian startup ecosystem.

"We will also begin work on a white paper that will analyse the impact that Big Tech's policies are having on the Indian startup ecosystem," Janakiraman said. "The task force will be in touch with government officials and policymakers and work towards bettering policy that will benefit the startup ecosystem."

Commission Concerns and IAMAI's Evolving Stance

Developers have consistently accused Google of charging exorbitant commissions, making operations unsustainable for startups. While Google has reduced its fees, it maintains the necessity of charging some fees to sustain its operations. IAMAI's evolving stance, marked by the formation of a new task force, aligns with the organization's shift after Indian founders replaced representatives from Big Tech firms on the governing council last year.

As the tech tussle escalates, the coming weeks will likely witness further developments in the battle between Google and Indian startups, with both sides digging in their heels and asserting their positions. The outcome may significantly impact the app development landscape in India and set precedents for similar conflicts globally.

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