EU antitrust regulators question developers about payments in Google Play apps, in new antitrust probe into app store

The Google Play Store would again be in the crosshairs of Brussels. Google’s rivals have reportedly received questionnaires from EU antitrust authorities about billing terms and developer fees for the Play Store. They reportedly asked app developers whether Google’s threat to remove apps from its Play Store if they use other payment options instead of its own billing system has hurt their business. Critics have for several years denounced the fees charged by Google and Apple on their mobile app stores, saying they are excessive.

Two Brussels executives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported this week that the European Commission has launched a new antitrust probe into the rules Google applies to its mobile app store. According to the sources, an investigation in the Netherlands into the Play Store rules will likely be closed to make way for the EU review, as issues of anti-competitive behavior will need to be addressed EU-wide. At the same time, the United Kingdom’s competition watchdog (CMA) also opened an investigation into Google Play.

Fees charged to developers for access to Google Play can be as high as 30%, and developers are not permitted to use alternative billing systems to collect payments from users. Google said apps would be removed from its mobile app store from June this year if developers don’t use its proprietary billing system. Sources report that questionnaires were sent to developers last month as part of the investigation. Of the 16 questions in the document, some covered the period 2017-2021 and others the period 2019-2021.

Respondents were asked if Google’s policy change this year had an impact on the distribution of their goods or services on Google Play, which apps were affected, and whether it affected their ability to acquire users on Android devices. Regulators wanted to know whether the change forced developers to abandon other payment options in favor of Google’s billing service and whether migrating users to another payment option affected the number of pre-existing users and access. from developers to data.

The EU’s competition watchdog asked developers if they thought they could offer a better service or product if they had the option of using another payment system. He also wanted to know if Google allowed them to use an alternative payment system, charged them a service fee for it, or complained about the security of their payment method. Additionally, app developers were asked whether digital payments giant Stripe, Dutch payment system Adyen and PayPal’s Braintree unit were considered alternative payment systems.

The European Commission declined to comment. But a Google spokesperson said the company had discussed a “number of things” with the European Commission, including recent changes to make the Play Store’s terms and conditions fairer and assuage allegations of unfair behavior. developers. As a reminder, in late July Google said developers of non-gaming apps could switch to rival payment systems. The company also announced that it will reduce developer fees, which are expected to be 12% instead of 15%.

This measure was presented by Google as a first step to comply with the rules of the digital economy, in particular the Digital Markets Act, recently adopted by the European Union. As part of our efforts to comply with these new rules, we are announcing a new program to support billing alternatives for EEA users. This will allow developers of non-gaming apps to offer their EEA users an alternative to Google Play’s billing system when paying for digital content and services, Google said.

Google said it continues to consider how to extend these new rules in the future. Google Play’s billing system will continue to be required for apps and games distributed through Play to users outside the EEA, and for games distributed to users within the EEA. “We plan to extend billing alternatives to game app developers for their users in the EEA, ahead of the DMA’s effective date,” the company added. The developers still denounced the Google initiative, alleging that it is not DMA-compliant.

Indeed, the new EU rules set out a series of prohibitions and obligations for some of the world’s biggest tech players, including Google, Meta, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. But some members of the European Commission responsible for enforcing the new regulations fear that recent actions taken by Google “are not sufficient” to stay compliant with the rules. DMA is set to be enshrined in EU regulation next October, and tech companies falling within its scope will be brought into compliance in early 2024.

In addition, Apple still refuses to allow developers to use third-party payment systems in their applications, but the DMA could permanently force it to do so. In the United States, a Senate committee approved a bill in February that will force Google and Apple to allow developers to use third-party payment systems. A similar law was also passed by South Korea in the first quarter of this year.

And you?

What is your opinion on the subject?
What do you think of the new EU investigation targeting Google Play?
What do you think of the new Google Play rules for non-gaming applications?
Is Google allowed to charge service fees when using a third-party payment system?

See as well

Google will test the ability for Android developers to use their own billing systems, starting with Spotify

Senate committee approves bill that will force Google and Apple to allow third-party payment systems, in the face of potential billions in losses, Apple plays it safe

South Korea finalizes rules requiring the App Store and Play Store to accept third-party payments, starting March 15 users will be able to choose their payment system for in-app purchases

Google Play will allow app developers to use alternative billing systems in Europe, and only in Europe, but they will still have to pay a service fee

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