Alphabet-owned Google is facing growing discontent among streaming and e-publishing companies in India. The dissatisfaction has escalated with the addition of four new companies to the list of petitioners seeking legal recourse against Google’s payments policy implementation. These companies, including streaming player Altt, audiobook portal Pratilipi, art and design platform Crafto and Tamil publisher Ananda Vikatan, have recently joined the ongoing battle by filing petitions with the Madras High Court.
This development follows the earlier petitions filed by Matrimony.com, Shaadi.com, Unacademy, Kuku FM, and TrulyMadly, who have already contested Google’s notice to comply with the mandated billing route or face potential removal from the Play Store.
Google’s Payment Policy Under Scrutiny
Google’s monopoly in the online advertising market has drawn scrutiny from regulators and industry participants over the years. Some experts claim that Google’s ad solutions can reduce the revenue potential for digital companies, particularly smaller ones, due to factors like competition, pricing, and access to user data. However, the scrutiny doesn’t end there. The spotlight has now shifted to Google’s payments policies, raising concerns about their potential to jeopardize businesses’ profitability, pushing them to the brink of financial ruin. These concerns have sparked legal action as businesses seek relief against the tech giant’s predatory moves.
The outcome of these legal battles remains uncertain, but the impact of Google’s actions on businesses and the evolving landscape of online advertising continue to generate intense debate and speculation.
Despite an order by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) instructing Google not to discriminate or impose conditional billing charges, the company is allegedly finding loopholes and exploiting developers while awaiting further directives from the antitrust body. The ongoing cases in the Madras High Court aim to obtain specific remedies against Google, contrasting with the broader nature of the proceedings before the CCI.
Petitioners in the Madras High Court argue that Google’s payments policy violates local laws and that imposing an 11-26% commission on their revenue would result in irreparable financial losses for app developers. Contesting the case, Google has filed an application requesting the dismissal of the complaint. The court, however, has ordered that the companies involved cannot be delisted from the Play Store, and a judgment on Google’s application is pending.
Citing a source familiar with the matter, The Economic Times claims that the hearings on this application have concluded, and the parties involved have been given time to submit their written arguments. The judgment on this particular application is currently pending.
It’s worth noting that there are currently 14 petitioners who have filed complaints against Google, and the court has issued an order preventing these companies from being delisted from the Play Store.
These legal developments highlight the ongoing legal battle between Google and the petitioners, with the outcome potentially impacting the relationship between the tech giant and app developers, as well as the broader app ecosystem.
Challenges for Regional Players
Although Google has suggested web billing as an alternative for app developers, some experts believe this option may not be suitable for regional over-the-top (OTT) players.
Web billing, similar to Netflix’s approach, may not be viable for regional platforms catering primarily to an Indian audience. This is because the Indian audience may be less accustomed to web-based payment methods and might feel less comfortable using them.
In the context of these discussions, it is noteworthy that Netflix is not part of the current discourse. This is because Netflix customers are typically more technologically savvy and have a higher level of sophistication when it comes to payment methods. Therefore, the dynamics and considerations surrounding web billing differ for regional platforms compared to a global platform like Netflix.
The disparity arises from the fact that regional platforms cater to a diverse audience with varying levels of comfort and familiarity with digital payment systems. As a result, experts contend that alternative solutions beyond web billing might be required to ensure that regional OTT players can effectively monetize their offerings and cater to the preferences and needs of their Indian user base.
In previous statements, a Google spokesperson has clarified that the company expects app developers to participate fairly in its business model, as their involvement is crucial for maintaining the value and ecosystem of Google Play. The company is also actively working alongside developers to support them in adhering to its policies and guidelines. However, if a developer decides not to comply, numerous alternative options are still available for them to operate their business within the Android ecosystem. This indicates that Google aims to strike a balance between enforcing its policies and providing developers with choices and opportunities to sustain their businesses.
As the legal battle between Google and multiple Indian companies intensifies, the Madras High Court will play a crucial role in determining the outcome. The decisions made in these cases could have far-reaching implications for the relationship between app developers and tech giants in the Indian market.
How might the outcome of the ongoing legal proceedings impact the payment policies and practices of other app stores and platforms in India?