Android users in India will soon have more control over their devices, thanks to a court ruling. Beginning next month, Indian Android wielders can choose a different billing system when paying for apps and in-app smartphone purchases rather than default to going through the Play Store. Google will also allow Indian users to select a different search engine as their default right as they set up a new device, which might have implications for upcoming EU regulations.
The move comes after a ruling last week by India’s Supreme Court. The trial started late last year when the Competition Commission of India (CCI) fined Google $161 million for imposing restrictions on its manufacturing partners. Google attempted to challenge the order by maintaining this kind of practice would stall the Android ecosystem and that “no other jurisdiction has ever asked for such far-reaching changes.”
Google lost that fight. Indian Android users will now have the option to choose a default search engine from the initial setup screen for both smartphones and tablet devices running Android. And they’ll be able to select a different billing service for apps and games to circumvent Google’s fees, too, though developers can still offer the option to use Google Play.
Google also won’t be able to require the installation of its branded apps to grant the license for running Android OS anymore. From now on, device manufacturers in India will be able to license “individual Google apps” as they like for pre-installation rather than needing to bundle the whole kit and caboodle. Google is also updating the Android compatibility requirements for its OEM partners to “build non-compatible or forked variants.”
Google still plans to appeal “certain aspects of the CCI’s decisions,” though it’s clearly none too happy about it. From the blog:
Implementation of these changes across the ecosystem will be a complex process and will require significant work at our end and, in many cases, significant efforts from partners, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and developers.
India is one of the Android platform’s dominant markets, so watching how the country’s users fare with this legislation will be interesting. Of particular note is seeing how users will react to being able to choose whether to buy apps and other in-app purchases through the Play Store, where Google takes a 30% cut from each transaction, or through an alternative billing service like JIO Money or Paytm—or even Amazon Pay, available in India.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because Google’s already been in some hot water for attempting to keep transactions pulsing through its Play Store. Remember the Fortnite debacle between Epic Games and Google (and Apple)? Epic sued because Google said that allowing the company to sell in-game currency directly through its website violated the Play Store app store policy since it meant Google wasn’t getting a percentage of the sale.
What’s happening in India may very well be a tale of what’s to come for Google with the other antitrust cases it’s juggling. Google is embroiled in a similar battle with the EU, where it’s already racked up an $8.24 billion fine over anticompetitive practices. The initial charges accused Google of requiring phone manufacturers to install its Chrome mobile browser and search tools on its devices, even offering financial incentives to place the apps on phones. And for those companies that didn’t comply, Google would have cut off access to the Google Play Store, the app store that powers up the entire ecosystem.
The Department of Justice in the United States is also suing Google’s parent company, Alphabet, for a second time this week for practices within its digital advertising business, alleging that the company “corrupted legitimate competition in the ad tech industry” to build out its monopoly.