March 12, 2024


Is Google’s billing policy for Indian app developers unfair?

Being an app developer can be tough. After all the hard work put in to develop an app and ensure it works properly, you sit back and hope people download it. Now, getting it listed on an app store is an achievement in and of itself. It then gets tricky from there. Not everything comes free.

For the past year, there has been a tussle between Google and the Indian startup and app developer community. It concerns billing or service fees companies pay to get listed and operate on Google’s Play Store. Google said several companies violated its policy by not paying a commission for in-app purchases. Is Google being too harsh with its Play Store policy?


The issue concerning its app store billing policy and the Indian developer community goes back a few years. Back then, the company announced a new billing policy and gave time to developers in India using non-Google Play billing systems.

The crux of the policy was a 30% commission fee for in-app purchases. This was introduced in 2018 but wasn’t strictly implemented. So, any app that provides digital goods or services would be charged 30% as commission. Data storage apps and streamers like Netflix, Spotify, etc, are some examples. The policy doesn’t apply to apps that enable transaction of physical goods like food delivery and commerce apps.

When it was announced, the startup community wasn’t happy. For them, 30% was too high. App developers depend on these purchases to make money. Third-party payment gateways like Razorpay and PayU would also be affected. At the time, calls for a local app store to rival Google’s came to the fore. Paytm even launched its Mini App store for Indian developers.

Faced with backlash from the developer community, Google decided to defer the policy’s implementation to give developers more time to transfer to the Play Store and listen to their concerns.

Around the same time, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) began investigating Google on whether it abused its dominance in the digital payments market. The CCI wanted to find out if Google was giving users, i.e., developers, the choice to pay through platforms apart from Google Pay. It fined Google $113 million and directed the company to provide developers the choice of third-party payment systems. Despite this, the company forged ahead.

This wasn’t the company’s first rodeo with a regulator. South Korea banned app stores from forcing developers to use only their billing systems for in-app purchases. There have been similar instances in Europe and the US where regulators looked at its app store billing policy. The same for Apple too, by the way.

Recently, things escalated so badly that Google decided to delist 10 apps that failed to comply with its billing policy. Among them were 99 acres, Naukri, and ALT Balaji. Things began to calm down after the government intervened and the apps were reinstated. Both parties agreed to a four-month extension.

With all that’s transpired, is Google in the wrong? Or, is the tech giant right in charging companies for using their platform that gives them a lot of visibility?

VIEW: Google has a case

Implementing the Play Store billing policy in India has been a start-stop-start saga for Google. However, what Google has been doing from the outset is giving companies time to migrate to its ecosystem. That ecosystem, the Play Store, gives companies plenty of visibility. More than any other app store, including Apple’s, particularly in India. The company said it has played a significant role in India’s digital journey by providing millions of users with unprecedented choices.

The service fee that Google charges from developers ensures that it’s able to invest back into the Indian app ecosystem. The results, according to Google, are big. The Android and Play Store ecosystem supported over 2.5 million jobs in India in 2022. The company contends that its tiered pricing system ensures developers aren’t under financial stress. Only 3% of developers in India sell digital goods or services and need to pay the service fee. The majority of them pay 15% or less. That’s the lowest among major global app stores.

Google, in some ways, has the Supreme Court’s backing. On February 9, the court refused to restrain the company from removing certain apps that didn’t comply with the billing policy. The vast majority of developers are paying their fair share, and it would be unfair to give preferential treatment to a select few.

COUNTERVIEW: Abusing its dominance

We’ve got to first acknowledge that Google has a dominant position in India. Over 95% of Indian smartphones run on Android, per some estimates. Since that’s Google’s operating system, they’ve got leverage. The apps that people most want and use are on the Play Store. This means it’s basically a monopoly, which isn’t good news for consumers, and, in this case, even developers. While Google may contend that there are other places to go, like the Apple or Samsung app store, companies will most likely choose Google since Android is ubiquitous.

Not only does Google charge the commission, but app developers have spoken about paying Google a chunk of their revenue for advertising services. The developer community obviously hasn’t been happy with Google’s practices and even called for the government to intervene, which they did.

Much of the frustration was summed up by Lal Chand Bisu, the founder of KuKu FM, one of the apps delisted and reinstated, in his LinkedIn post. He called Google “the most evil company for businesses”. founder Anupam Mittal also took Google to task. He said that even if a company opts for an alternative payment system, they still have to pay 26%. So, Google’s User Billing Choice isn’t really all that better. Google already forces smartphone makers and carriers to sign an all-or-nothing deal to pre-install Google apps and block users from deleting them.

Reference Links:

  • Explainer: Google Play commission structure and what Indian startups need to know – Your Story
  • Google extends Play billing policy deadline to October 31, 2022 – Moneycontrol
  • Google pushes ahead with in-app billing policy in India, insists watchdog compliance – Tech Crunch
  • Upholding a fair and equitable experience for India’s thriving digital ecosystem – Google
  • Internet group ADIF urges CCI to review Google’s app billing system – The Economic Times
  • ‘If Google is not there…’: founder Anupam Mittal weighs in on Play Store billing row – Mint

What is your opinion on this?

a) Google’s Play Store billing policy in India is fair.

b) Google’s Play Store billing policy in India is unfair.


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