Google boots out matrimony, streaming apps over platform fee tiff

The company’s yearslong conflict with Indian developers over mandatory in-app payment fees entered a new chapter with many apps booted out after the Supreme Court declined developers interim relief

Updated - March 01, 2024 05:55 pm IST

Published - March 01, 2024 04:31 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Google logo is seen on the Google house at CES 2024, an annual consumer electronics trade show, in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.

The Google logo is seen on the Google house at CES 2024, an annual consumer electronics trade show, in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Google on March 1 delisted certain matrimonial and dating apps, Bharat Matrimony, Truly Madly, Quack Quack, and two streaming services, Balaji Telefilms’s ALTT (formerly ALTBalaji) and the audio platform Kuku FM, after the Supreme Court declined to provide the companies behind these apps interim relief in their battle against the search giant’s platform fees for in-app payments on Google Play, the company’s mobile app marketplace for the Android operating system.

The development is likely to come as a shock to the firms concerned, which offer a rare segment of digital services where Indian consumers are willing to spend money: entertainment and companionship. Bharat Matrimony says it has a market cap of over ₹2,300 crore. None of the firms that were kicked out of Google Play responded to a request for comment, though Bharat Matrimony founder Murugavel Janakiraman was quoted by the news outlet TechCrunch as saying that this was a “dark day” for the Internet in India, and that the company would explore legal options. Kuku FM cofounder Vinod Kumar Meena said in a statement that Google was behaving like a ‘monopoly,’ and that the search giant was “on [a] hunt to collect rent” from developers. QuackQuack founder Ravi Mittal said in a statement that the company would comply with Google’s rules to get back on the marketplace.

“Unfortunately, we will have to comply with Google’s current policies as there is no alternative or immediate remedy,” Mr. Mittal told The Hindu. “This shows the control Google has over the app economy in a growing country like India.”

In a statement indicating the company had run out of patience, Google said that only a small number of firms have to pay any fees over 15% on payments users made in-app, and that the companies that it was acting on had a long window of opportunity to comply with its rules. Google requires in-app payments for digital services, such as online matchmaking and streaming video, to pay a platform fee that could range from 11–30%, depending on what payment method is used, and the size of the app’s user base.

Disney+ Hotstar and exam prep service Testbook, for whom the interim relief granted by the Supreme Court came later, and is still valid, have not yet been delisted. The former’s app continues to offer a payment method in the app that doesn’t appear to share any proceeds from sales with Google.

“Today, we have over 200,000 Indian developers using Google Play who adhere to our policies … however, for an extended period of time, 10 companies, including many well-established ones, have chosen to not pay for the immense value they receive on Google Play by securing interim protections from court,” Google said in a statement.

“After giving these developers more than three years to prepare, including three weeks after the Supreme Court’s order, we are taking necessary steps to ensure our policies are applied consistently across the ecosystem, as we do for any form of policy violation globally.”

Many of these developers, including Bharat Matrimony, coalesced around a rival app store effort by the Walmart-owned payments company PhonePe last month, where Sameer Nigam, the firm’s CEO, boasted that no app would be required to pay platform fees, and that the app marketplace would find other ways of monetising itself.

But Mr. Mittal of QuackQuack pushed back on the potential of other app marketplaces as a viable alternative. “Unfortunately, Google Play … is the only option for any company to be present on the Android ecosystem as Google has built this walled garden,” he said. “It is imperative for our survival.”

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