Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Google appeals--but for now CLAIMS to comply with--Indian antitrust ruling, pauses enforcement of in-app billing rule: will Fortnite return to Google Play in India?

OutlookIndia.com--citing PTI (Press Trust of India)--reports that Google has decided to appeal the Competition Commission of India's (CCI) recent antitrust decisions:

According to the OutlookIndia.com article, Google has "reportedly found three grounds, based on which the tech giant considers the ruling and fines faulty."

But for the time being, Google claims to act in compliance with those decisions:

"Following the CCI's recent ruling, we are pausing enforcement of the requirement for developers to use Google Play's billing system for the purchase of digital goods and services for transactions by users in India while we review our legal options and ensure we can continue to invest in Android and Play."

A major caveat: When Google announces compliance with respect to the Google Play app tax, it doesn't necessarily mean compliance-compliance. It could be the same sort of bad-faith as in the EU (where Google said it was about the Digital Markets Act, though in reality there already was a full-blown antitrust investigation underway) or in South Korea, where Google's rejection of the KaTalk chat app (which is ubiquitous in that country) has given rise to an investigation by the Korea Communications Commission.

I'm not saying that the Indian situation is the same and that Google may be charging developers a commission of almost the same amount even if they don't use Google Play Billing. The CCI also bars Google from imposing non-FRAND terms on developers that bypass Google Play Billing. Maybe that serves as a deterrent.

We may have to wait until we hear about complaints from the Indian app developer community that Google's compliance is just bad-faith compliance like we've seen in other places. There's actually a litmus test for whether Google really means to comply: whether they let Fortnite return to the Google Play Store in India (in case Epic Games so requests). They kicked out that app only because of its circumvention of Google Play's in-app payment system with the infamous 30% tax. Epic sued them immediately, and the case is at an interesting stage--about eight months prior to the U.S. trial--with Epic and Match Group (Tinder) asking the court for permission to amend their complaint with a claim of a per se antitrust violation.

Epic has been clear that it will return to the Google Play Store and Apple's App Store only when it will be free to offer alternative in-app payment options to its customers. If Google truly and genuinely means to comply with the Indian decision, then that would be a good test market now.

If Google refused to let Fortnite return to Google Play in India, it might risk non-compliance sanctions in India and undermine its credibility in the litigation in the Northern District of California.