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Pressure builds on Google to soften stance in India

Indian app developers can get away with not paying Google its 30% Play Store commission for over a year.reuters (MINT_PRINT)Premium
Indian app developers can get away with not paying Google its 30% Play Store commission for over a year.reuters (MINT_PRINT)

  • Some startups are already looking at alternative listing for their apps through android application package (APK) downloads on their websites
  • After being banned on 18 September, Paytm First Games made a comeback on the Google Play Store on Tuesday

Technology giant Google is being pushed to soften its stance in India after pushback from startup founders in the country over its policies.

Some startups are already looking at alternative listing for their apps through android application package (APK) downloads on their websites. Founders said there are instances like fantasy sports platform Dream11 which has garnered 100 million users without listing on Google Play Store.

Startups are also demanding 'fair' play as Google controls the entire tech stack right from an operating system (Android) to app-distribution through its Play Store. Google is by 95% of Indian digital consumers.

They may also look at creating a non-profit organization to run a possible app store listing Indian apps. However, this is still at an early stage.

After being banned on 18 September, Paytm First Games made a comeback on the Google Play Store on Tuesday. While the app is still non-functional, a person familiar with the issue said that Paytm will be adding new games to it shortly.

Google has started meeting with various app developers in the country to “understand their concerns more deeply" and will also be hosting “policy workshops" where it will answer developers’ questions about its policies. In a blog post day on Sunday, Google had said Indian startups will get six extra months to comply with its billing policies on the Play Store.

The government, which has been in listening mode so far, has asked startups to send a letter apprising on the challenges, which founders are planning to send in by next week. A view will be firmed up after deliberations at various levels, a government official said.

“One could surmise that the discontentment among Indian apps regarding Google Play’s commission demands coupled with a public policy and regulatory shift favouring an indigenous app store may have played a role in Google Play’s flexibility," said Akash Karmakar, partner at Law Offices of Panag and Babu.

Bipin Preet Singh, founder CEO, MobiKwik, a payment service, which was also temporarily removed from Play Store in May, said the deferment of Play Store billing is hogwash.

“…There has to stringent regulation in India, which asks tech conglomerates like Google to operate with ‘fairness’ and ‘transparency’ while allowing for competition to thrive. No longer are they (Google) appealing to the good of any company [...] They can’t control the OS, app-distribution and launch their own apps. These need to be decoupled and all founders are looking at alternatives to list their apps," Singh said.

Nearly two dozen startup founders recently spoke to the ministry of electronics & information technology (MeitY) including Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma against Google's policies.

"They need to remove the 30% commissions in India and stop forcing technology companies to use only their Play Store billing system. All we ask is for fair play. Today, startups are at the mercy of Google, where they can randomly remove any app from the Play Store," said Murugavel Janakiraman is the founder-CEO of Matrimony.com Ltd.

Startups are also asking the Indian government to bring in laws which bring tech giants including Apple, Google and Facebook under the gamut of Indian institutions.

Snehil Khanor, co-founder and CEO, TrulyMadly.com said Facebook and Google are taking India’s capital away by colonisation of digital economy.

A Google spokesperson didn’t respond to Mint’s queries.

Sameer Jain, founder and managing partner, PSL Advocates & Solicitors, pointed out that while Google “appears to be a softening of stance" the firm hasn’t indicated that it will remove the 30% commissions on the Play Store.

He added that removing this commission just for India will be a much bigger challenge for Google, since its part of the company’s global policies.

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