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Google removes prominent Indian apps from PlayStore amid fee dispute

Google took down over a dozen popular apps from the Play Store in India on Friday, in response to ongoing non-compliance with its billing policies by developers. This action comes amid a three-year dispute in Google’s largest market by users.

The tech giant revealed that 10 companies in India, including undisclosed well-established ones, had failed to pay fees despite benefiting from the platform. Google, owned by Alphabet, noted that a select group of developers in India had ample time to comply with the Play Store’s payments policy but chose not to. These developers, Google added, continue to adhere to the payment policies of other app stores.

Apps affected by the removal include those from matrimony platforms Shaadi, Matrimony.com, and Bharat Matrimony, along with Info Edge’s Naukri and 99acres, audio storytelling apps Kuku FM and Stage, Alt Balaji’s Altt, and dating service QuackQuack.

Android devices dominate approximately 95% of the smartphone market in India. Being removed from the Google Play Store could spell an existential crisis for many of the aforementioned companies.

Lal Chand Bisu, co-founder and CEO of Kuku FM, criticized Google, stating that the tech giant has become a difficult partner to work with and holds significant control over the Indian startup ecosystem. Bisu expressed concern, noting that they are left with no choice but to accept Google’s terms, potentially leading to financial challenges for Kuku FM in serving a large portion of the country.

In a post on X, Bisu emphasized the indifference of monopolies towards anything beyond their own interests.

IAMAI, a significant industry association representing some of India’s largest startups and international firms, released a statement advising Google, a member of IAMAI, against delisting any apps from Google Play. The association confirmed that Google had issued notices to at least four of its members.

Google, in a blog post, stated, “After providing these developers with over three years to prepare, including three weeks after the Supreme Court’s order, we are taking requisite measures to ensure consistency in applying our policies across the ecosystem, as we do for any policy violation globally.” The post further mentioned, “Enforcement of our policy, when necessary, can involve removing non-compliant apps from Google Play.”

Several companies in India have contested Google’s Play Store billing policy in recent times, alleging that the fees imposed by Google are excessively high for the services rendered. Among the firms petitioning the Madras High Court were Bharat Matrimony, Shadi.com, Unacademy, Kuku FM, Alt Digital Media, and Info Edge, which operates the popular job recruitment platform Naukri. Additionally, Disney’s Hotstar and Tinder have also challenged Google’s policy in India.

India holds significant importance as an overseas market for Google, where the company has made substantial investments over the past decade and currently serves a user base exceeding half a billion individuals. Google revealed on Friday that the Android and Play Store ecosystem collectively supported over 2.5 million jobs in India in 2022, with only 3% of developers in the country required to pay a service fee. Furthermore, Google stated that fewer than five dozen developers in India are subject to fees exceeding 15%.

Google’s statement on Friday comes in response to the Madras High Court’s rejection of petitions from various Indian tech companies against Google’s new user choice billing system in January.

The company emphasized its adherence to local laws and asserted its right to charge for the value and services provided by Google Play. Google noted that on February 9, the Supreme Court declined to intervene in its right to do so. While some developers have begun to participate in Google’s business model and ecosystem, others continue to resist, resulting in an uneven playing field across the ecosystem and placing other apps and games at a competitive disadvantage.

According to Google, the small group of developers not paying the fee while utilizing the Play Store is creating disparities within the ecosystem. Google suggested that these developers can either resubmit their apps by adhering to the rules or opt for continuity in the Android ecosystem by collaborating with alternative app stores.

Developers seeking to publish their apps on the Play Store must choose one of Google Play’s three options: offering consumption-only access without paying a service fee (as seen with platforms like Netflix), integrating Google Play’s billing system and agreeing to pay the established fee, or implementing an alternative billing system resulting in reduced fees for developers.

Source: Social Samosa

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