Tech giant Google has chosen to withdraw its appeal against the order of a single judge of the Delhi High Court, paving the way for the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to proceed with the examination of applications lodged by Indian startups against Google's controversial user choice billing system.
Google's Delhi High Court Proceedings
Senior Advocate Sajan Poovayya, representing Google, informed the court that the initial order was issued by a single judge during a period when the CCI lacked the necessary quorum to address the plea. However, Poovayya emphasized that the CCI now has the requisite quorum and has commenced the hearing on the applications put forth by startups. Despite expressing the desire to withdraw the appeal, Google aims to keep the legal questions open for future consideration.
CCI's Position and Regulatory Proceedings
Lawyer Akanksha Kaul, representing the CCI, conveyed to the court that the regulatory body has no objections to Google's withdrawal of the appeal. Consequently, the court granted permission for Google to retract its appeal.
CCI's Probe into Google's Billing Policy
In May 2023, the CCI announced its intention to investigate Google's new users' choice billing policy. The inquiry aims to determine whether Google adhered to the CCI's October 2022 directive, instructing the tech giant not to curtail app developers' use of third-party billing systems. Notably, the CCI's order had specified that app developers were granted the alternative billing system option solely for in-app purchases, including paid apps.
Delhi High Court's Directive and ADIF's Intervention
The legal saga unfolded on April 24 when a group of Indian startups approached the Delhi High Court, urging the CCI to scrutinize Google's user choice billing system. The Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF), a prominent think tank, played a pivotal role by filing a plea against both the competition regulator and Google. ADIF's petition implored the CCI to promptly investigate Google's user choice billing system, citing its alleged infringement of the antitrust watchdog's October 25, 2022, order.
ADIF's Plea and Call for Urgent Action
The ADIF's petition sought a directive instructing the CCI to invoke the 'doctrine of necessity' to investigate Google's purported violation of the regulator's guidelines. The plea also urged the issuance of a stay on the implementation of Google's user choice billing system until the completion of the investigation. Central to ADIF's argument was the claim that the CCI lacked the quorum necessary to adjudicate antitrust cases, emphasizing the need for extraordinary actions to address the alleged violations.
Google's Ongoing Legal Battles
It's worth noting that this development occurs against the backdrop of Google's ongoing legal battle against the CCI's Rs 936.44 crore penalty imposed in October 2022 for the abuse of its dominant position in Play Store policies. Google is presently pursuing an appeal in the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) challenging the CCI's penalty.
As the CCI resumes its investigation into Google's user choice billing system, the tech industry and legal experts await further developments that could shape the regulatory landscape for app developers and tech giants in India.
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