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In the letter, CCI seeks to understand the extent of partnerships startups have with Google Play Store. Reuters
In the letter, CCI seeks to understand the extent of partnerships startups have with Google Play Store. Reuters

CCI seeks startups’ views on monopoly by Google

  • It wants to know impact on ecosystem if ‘abuse of market dominance’ is established

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has written to 17 startup founders, questioning them and collating their viewpoints on the ongoing controversy over Google abusing its dominant position in the operating system (OS) market, according to three individuals directly aware of the matter.

This comes at a time when India’s antitrust regulator has initiated a probe against Google for allegedly abusing its dominance to force app makers to exclusively use its billing system Google Pay for in-app purchases and for bundling the search giant’s payments app with Android smartphones sold in the country.

Startups that have received letters from CCI include Paytm, Zomato, PhonePe, UpGrad, Dream11, GOQII, Razorpay, and Matrimony.com. Some of these startups were also a part of the first discussion with the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) on Google’s 30% in-app commission for selling digital goods and services in October.

In the letter, CCI seeks to understand the extent of partnerships startups have with Google Play Store, and possible repercussions on the ecosystem in case an ‘abuse of market dominance’ is established, said a startup founder who has received the letter.

The 20 questions raised by CCI in the letter include difference in app development on Android OS versus other operating systems, constraints that startups might have faced in development or maintenance of apps on Android, challenges in listing on the Play Store, as well as mutual agreements and instances where apps have been removed from the Play Store.

Two founders who received the letter on Monday confirmed that CCI has also asked the startups about their agreements with various operating systems for placing their app on the app stores.

“CCI has also asked startups about the revenue they share with different OS, as well as elements of costs needed for making mobile applications in the country," said the co-founder of a startup, who did not want to be named.

The startups have two weeks to submit their responses to CCI.

“We are rallying, so that Google considers a good price point that is relevant for in-app billing, instead of imposing a blanket 30% commission. Why can’t Indian apps offer other payment providers along with Google Play-billing, for in-app purchases, and let consumers have the choice. CCI’s probe will look into the bundling that Google undertakes to build a monopoly in a country," said a third startup founder, requesting anonymity.

Paytm, PhonePe and Razorpay did not respond to queries till press time.

In October, Mint first reported that a group of 15 founders had held a virtual meeting with CCI to apprise the regulator about Google’s anti-competitive policies in India. The discussion involved Google’s recent imposition of its Play Store billing system on Indian developers, as well as the 30% commission, which the company charges apps for selling digital goods and services.

Startups have been actively rallying and reaching out to multiple stakeholders, including MeitY and CCI, to stop Google’s in-app billing policy. This has caused Google to hold multiple meetings over the past month with startup founders and push the implementation of this policy until April 2021.

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