Google will not have to host third-party Android app stores in the Indian version of its Play Store, following antitrust rulings from January. The company is still facing a $161 million fine from Indian regulators, though they have eased up on how Android should function in the country moving forward. This comes in the wake of global legal action against Google’s anti-competitive actions across its entire business, as well as an EU ruling that might require Google and Apple to allow for more “open markets” down the line, including potentially making way for third party app stores.
A few months back, Google was under antitrust fire when the Competition Commission of India (CCI) ruled that the company had to be more permissive to third-party app stores and payment methods on its platform. It also ruled that Google could no longer withhold a license for the Android OS based on whether a manufacturer included Google branded apps pre-installed on the device.
Google has since appealed the decision and will receive some relief through relaxed enforcement of four of the ten directives. The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT), which handles these kinds of appeals in India, is still requiring Google to pay the penalty fees. But Google won’t have to host third-party Android app stores in the Play Store. Instead, users will still have to sideload an APK just like the olden days. This has been a practice on Android pretty much since its inception, and it’s rumored that it might be how both Google and even Apple gets around a recent EU ruling requiring more “open markets” when it starts to go into effect next month (or so the rumors foretell).
The directive was meant to diversify Android’s offerings in a market where it is the dominant operating system by over 90%. Google feared the directive because allowing Indian Android users to go through other app stores for app downloads and other content meant less time spent inside Google’s virtual shops, as well as fewer opportunities for Google to take a cut on paid content.
Google offered a statement to TechCrunch:
We are grateful for the opportunity given by the NCLAT to make our case. We are reviewing the order and evaluating our legal options.
Google has agreed to other changes on the Android platform as it exists in India. Android will allow for more “user choice” on default search engines and even in-app billing, so that the company isn’t always taking a 30% cut with each in-app transaction. It has also loosened its requirements for which Google apps are installed by default. Indian OEMs will be allowed to pick and choose the apps as they please rather than be required to include the whole kit and caboodle.
Google continues to face legal concerns over its growing business elsewhere in the world. In the EU, it racked up a whopping $9.7 Billion in fines over anti-competitive practices. And in the U.S., Alphabet is butting heads with the Department of Justice over its ad-tech business.
It’s currently unclear how strictly the EU’s Digital Markets Act will affect Android, and if it will have to make similar appeals there to the ones it did in India. But given that the EU is forcing Apple to adopt USB-C, it’s worth keeping track of legal restrictions placed on Google and Android in their largest international markets, as it’s often cheaper for these companies to change how their products work everywhere rather than make concessions on a country by country basis.