Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.File Photo | AP

Google starts removing multiple Indian apps from Play Store for not paying service fee

Shaadi, Matrimony.com, Bharat Matrimony, Balaji Telefilms' ALTT, audio platform Kuku FM, and dating service Quack Quack were among the apps that disappeared from the Play Store.

NEW DELHI: Google on Friday began removing some apps, including popular matrimony apps, from its Play Store in India over a dispute on service fee payments.

Google said that 10 companies in the country, including "many well-established," had avoided paying fees despite benefiting from the platform.

It did not name the firms but a search of the Play Store on Android phones did not give results for matrimonial apps such as Shaadi, Matrimony.com and Bharat Matrimony.

Balaji Telefilms' ALTT (formerly ALTBalaji), audio platform Kuku FM, dating service Quack Quack, Truly Madly also disappeared from the Play Store.

The dispute is over Google imposing a fee of 11 percent to 26 percent on in-app payments after anti-competition body CCI ordered the scrapping of an earlier system of charging 15 percent to 30 percent.

Google went ahead to remove the apps not paying the fee after the Supreme Court did not provide interim relief to the companies behind these apps in their battle against the search giant's platform fees.

While Bharat Matrimony founder Murugavel Janakiraman described the move as "dark day" for the Internet in India, Kuku FM co-founder Vinod Kumar Meena, in a statement, said that Google was behaving like a 'monopoly'. QuackQuack Founder Ravi Mittal said the company would comply with rules to get back on the marketplace.

Google previously sent notices of Play Store violations to Matrimony.com, which runs the app BharatMatrimony, and Info Edge, which runs a similar app, Jeevansathi.

Info Edge founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani said it had cleared all pending Google invoices in a timely manner and was compliant with its policies.

"Indian companies will comply - for now. But what India needs is an App Store/ Play Store that is a part of Digital Public Infrastructure - like UPI and ONDC. The response needs to be strategic," he said in a post on X tagging Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and his office.

IAMAI, an industry association that represents some of the largest Indian startups as well as international firms, said in a statement that it has advised Google - a member of IAMAI - to not delist any apps from Google Play. The industry body said it is able to confirm that Google had sent notices to at least four of the group's members.

In a blog post, Google said 10 Indian companies had chosen for an extended period of time not to pay for the "immense value they receive on Google Play".

"For years, no court or regulator has denied Google Play's right to charge," it said, adding that the Supreme Court on February 9 also "refused to interfere" with its right to do so.

Google asserted that allowing a small group of developers to get differential treatment from the vast majority of developers who are paying their fair share creates an uneven playing field putting all other apps and games at a competitive disadvantage.

"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.

It went on to say that enforcement of the policy, when necessary, can include removal of non-compliant apps from Google Play. Google, however, added that existing users will be able to continue to access the apps without interruption and that it continues "to offer our support to help developers get into compliance".

Developers, it said, are welcome to resubmit their apps to be listed on Play by selecting one of the three billing options as part of its payment policy.

"Today, we have over 2,00,000 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 the court," it said.

These developers comply with payment policies of other app stores, Google lamented.

"We've always respected local laws," the tech titan said.

Google's Android platform runs on 94 per cent of Indian phones.

Janakiraman of Matrimony.com questioned the urgency for Google to remove apps when CCI was hearing the matter. He went on to allege that Google was not following the CCI order and that the government should make a note of it.

Apps of Matrimony.com that have been removed include Jodii, a matchmaking app that has over 5 million downloads, Christian Matrimony, Muslim Matrimony, and Divorcee Matrimony.

Snehil Kahnor, co-founder and CEO of Truly Madly, said, 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 apps to remove other gateways and only use its billing systems and pay them 15–30 percent commission.

The companies that are challenging Google Play in the Supreme Court include Matrimony.com, Shaadi.com, InfoEdge, Unacademy, Truly Madly, Aha, Altt, Disney+ Hotstar, Kuku FM, QuackQuack, Stage, Kutumb, Pratilipi, Ananda Vikatan, Crafto, and Testbook.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) in a statement said, "The affected members of IAMAI are of the view that a substantive hearing of the case is pending before the Supreme Court of India, and Google should not take any coercive action during the pendency of the case."

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