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Google removes apps of Matrimony.com, Naukri, 99acres, Altt, and other Indian companies

Speaking to Medianama, founders of the concerned companies alleged Google was the one not in compliance with the Indian competition regulator’s antitrust order.

Google has removed apps belonging to Matrimony.com, Info Edge (Naukri and 99acres), Shaadi.com, Altt, Truly Madly, Stage, and other Indian companies, informing them that the apps are not in compliance with the Play Store billing policy. “It’s a dark day for India,” founders of some of these companies told MediaNama, alleging that Google is forcing its billing system and service fees on them in violation of the Indian competition regulator’s 2022 antitrust order.

Google has published a blog post about this development stating:

“Today, we have over 200,000 Indian developers using Google Play who adhere to our policies, helping us ensure we have a safe platform; however, for an extended period of time, 10 companies, including many well-established ones, have chosen to not pay for the immense value they receive on Google Play by securing interim protections from court. These developers comply with payment policies of other app stores. […] For years, no court or regulator has denied Google Play’s right to charge for the value and services we provide. On 9 February, the Supreme Court also refused to interfere with our right to do so.”

Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder and CEO of Matrimony.com, told MediaNama: 

“I consider this a dark day for the Indian internet. What is the urgency for Google to remove apps when CCI is hearing the matter? As far as we are concerned, Google is not following the CCI order.

The government should make a note of it and they need to work towards how to make the internet free from the clutches of Google. Startups should not be at the mercy of Google.

Our apps that have been removed are Jodii, a matchmaking app that has over 5 million downloads, Christian Matrimony, Muslim Matrimony, and Divorcee Matrimony, and as we speak they are deleting more apps.”

Snehil Kahnor, Co-Founder and CEO of Truly Madly, said:

“It’s Google who is not complying with the CCI order. Despite a clear order from CCI to not restrict app developers from using third-party payment services and to not take any adverse measures against apps, Google is forcing us to remove other gateways and only use Google’s billing systems and pay them 15-30% commission.

It’s a dark day for the digital India dream. BigTechs have become the digital landlords of the digital ecosystem and want us to pay them lagaan. Hardly any business in India even makes 30% profit after tax, but they want to earn 30% of our revenue so they can keep getting bigger at the expense of our demise.”

Vinay Singhal, Co-Founder and CEO of STAGE, said: 

“This is a very East India Company behaviour and this is basically the death of so many digital businesses in the country.  It is a dark day and for STAGE it is going to be detrimental to our business because we won’t be able to pay a 15 percent commission on every revenue cycle.

On the one hand, we talk so much about Digital India, but on the other, we are not even able to protect our companies when someone is literally violating the CCI order.

Look at their audacity, there is a CCI hearing going on parallel, there was literally a hearing there before yesterday, and Google is still sending out notices to delist. What is it to say that they already don’t know what the CCI’s outcome is going to be? They have enough firepower, they have enough money, and they have enough lobby.”

Anupam Mittal, Founder and CEO of People Group and Shaadi.com, said: 

“In a blatant violation of the CCI order, Google has delisted some of the most well-known apps in India without any fore-warning. While there was an SC judgement on Feb 9th denying interim relief, the least that was expected from Google was to send a notice to developers. Now they are setting the narrative that they are doing this to be fair to other app developers. Amazing how quickly they went from ‘Don’t be Evil’ to hallucinating like the Gen AI Gemini that they have built. This is indeed a dark day for India’s economy and its future. The govt needs to intervene now and direct CCI to ensure Google is in compliance with their order and immediately restore all apps that were delisted including Shaadi.com.”

Sanjeev Bikhchandani, Founder of Info Edge (which owns Naukri.com and 99acres), posted

Which other companies are impacted: Google did not name the ten companies whose apps are being removed, but they are among the companies that are challenging Google Play in the Supreme Court. This includes Matrimony.com, Shaadi.com, InfoEdge, Unacademy, Truly Madly, Aha, Altt,  Kuku FM, QuackQuack, Stage, Kutumb, Pratilipi, Ananda Vikatan, Crafto, and Testbook. The Supreme Court in early February refused to provide these companies with any interim relief from being removed from the Play Store.

What options do these companies have now according to Google: Google said that the developers of delisted apps can resubmit their apps by adhering to Google Play’s billing policy, which can be done in one of three ways:

  1. Operate on a consumption-only basis without paying a service fee: Under this option, any developer could allow a user of their app to access content that they paid for outside the app. Netflix, for example, follows this model where users can subscribe on any browser and access content on the Netflix app. The Netflix app itself does not allow users to pay for a subscription. If developers go by this option they pay no service fees to Google.
  2. Use Google Play’s billing system: Under this option, developers integrate Google Play’s billing system for all in-app purchases of digital goods and services. The service fees that developers pay Google under this model vary between 10 to 30 percent.
  3. Offer an alternative billing system: Developers can choose to offer an alternative billing system alongside Google Play’s for users in India. When users opt for alternative billing systems, the fee that developers pay Google is reduced by an additional four percent. The fees under this model, known as User Choice Billing, are between 6 to 26 percent. This option was introduced following the CCI antitrust order in October 2022, which required Google to allow alternative billing systems. Importantly, the alternative billing system can only be shown alongside Google billing and not standalone and users get to decide which billing system they would like to use.

“In the meantime, these developers continue to have other options to operate their business on Android, including distribution through alternative Android app stores or directly via their websites. Existing users will be able to continue to access the apps without interruption — and we continue to offer our support to help developers get into compliance,” Google added.

How are the above three models different from the status quo: Until now, the affected companies were using third-party billing systems (like Razorpay, BillDesk, etc.) to process in-app purchases and did not pay any commission to Google for these sales.

What’s the court battle going on between Google and the affected companies: The affected companies had approached the Madras High Court last year alleging that Google’s new billing policy violates various laws and the competition regulator’s antitrust order. The Madras High Court, however, in January 2024 dismissed the complaints noting that the matter falls under the purview of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Subsequently, the companies appealed to the Supreme Court, which has listed the matter for hearing on March 19.

The companies had asked the court to direct Google to not remove their apps from the Play Store while the appeals were being heard. With the court refusing to grant this, the companies turned to Google, asking it not to take any action while the matter is being heard. But Google’s actions now make it clear that it will not grant any such relief to these companies.

“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,” Google said in its blog post.

What’s the CCI probe into Google Play: The Competition Commission of India is looking into whether Google Play’s billing policy complies with its antitrust order issued in October 2022. As per the order, Google is supposed to allow alternative billing systems, but since the order doesn’t say whether such alternatives should be allowed standalone, Google has made Play billing mandatory alongside any alternative. Since developers found this to be against the idea of the CCI order, they have asked the regulator to look into it.

Google defends its service fees: Google justified its billing policy and service fees stating the benefits it has brought to Indian developers and users. “Today, Indian developers are finding global success with Google Play, and the Android and Play ecosystem collectively supported over 2.5 million jobs in India in 2022. 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 – enabling a level of openness, developer choice, and vigilance unmatched by other platforms,” the company stated in its blog post.

Only 60 developers in India pay more than 15 percent fees: “Only 3% of developers in India sell digital goods or services and therefore need to pay a service fee, the vast majority of whom pay 15 percent or less – the lowest of any major global app store. In fact, in India, less than 60 developers on Google Play are subject to fees above 15 percent,” Google added. Apps earning less than $1 million a year qualify for the 15 percent discount. This is further reduced to 11 percent if the developer uses alternative billing.  You can read more about Google’s service fee structure here.

Timeline of key events

  • September 2020 – Google makes the use of Play billing mandatory: Google makes the use of the Google Play billing system mandatory for all in-app purchases. While this was always the policy, the lack of clarification and enforcement allowed developers to use other billing systems and pay no commission to Google. The initial deadline for complying with this policy was September 2021, but it was extended multiple times and later paused in light of the CCI order issued in October 2022 (more below).
  • November 2020 – Developers file complaint with CCI: Developers, led by the Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF), challenge this new policy and other alleged anti-competitive practices at the Competition Commission of India (CCI).
  • October 2022 – CCI issues antitrust order: CCI issues an antitrust order requiring Google to make significant changes to its Play Store policies including allowing developers to use alternative billing systems.
  • January 2023 – Google introduces User Choice Billing: Google updates its Play Store policies to comply with the CCI order and introduces the User Choice Billing program, which allows developers to show users an alternative billing system alongside Google Play Billing. This billing policy went into effect on April 26, 2023. Since this date, Google has required apps to either use Google Play Billing or enrol in the User Choice Billing programs. Some apps got interim relief from complying with this billing policy by approaching the court (more below).
  • April 2023 – Developers ask CCI to look into Google’s compliance: ADIF and Tinder-owner Match Group ask CCI to look into Google’s compliance with the antitrust order, complaining that it falls short because User Choice Billing still requires developers to pay Google a service fee and that developers cannot show users the alternative billing system standalone without the Play billing system.
  • April 2023 – Matrimony.com approaches Madras HC and wins temporary injunction: Matrimony.com challenges Google’s new billing policy in Madras High Court. You can read the allegations made by the company in our summary of the petition here. The Madras HC prohibited Google from delisting the apps operated by Matrimony.com from the Play Store even if it is not in compliance with Google Play’s new billing policy. More companies join the fight in June and July.
  • January 2024 — Madras HC dismisses the petitions: A division bench of the high court upheld the single judge order and dismissed the petitions as well. The court, however, allowed the earlier interim protection that prohibited Google from delisting the apps to continue for 3 more weeks. The companies approach the Supreme Court.
  • February 2024 — Supreme Court agrees to hear the appeals, denies interim relief: The Supreme Court accepts the appeals, issuing notice to Google and setting the next date of hearing as March 19. It, however, refused to provide interim protection to the startups, thus allowing Google to delist the apps of the complainants from the Play Store if it wanted to.
  • March 2024 – Google starts removing apps of non-compliant companies

Update (March 2, 9:00 am): Added names of more apps that were confirmed to be removed. The updated headline reflects the same.

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