As regulators examine both Apple and Google for antitrust violations, some app developers and startups in India are increasingly hoping for similar action in the country. The passage of a major South Korean law last week – dubbed an anti-Google bill – in particular, is seen as an important start.
“South Korean legislation is a welcome development as it sets a legal precedent, which can be a point of reference for Indian regulators as well as for other countries and markets,” Sijo Kuruvilla George, executive director of the Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) says TechToSee.com. He says the conversation needs to move beyond advocacy – something ADIF as a startup alliance has been doing for about a year now – to legislation.
Apple and Google both charge app developers a 15-30% commission for in-app purchases, subscriptions, and other transactions. To ensure developers pay the commission, both ensure that apps can only use their approved, built-in payment methods. South Korean law allows apps to use their own preferred app payment systems, bypassing the control of Apple and Google.
Recently, Apple made a small concession to this 30% commission by declaring that reading apps such as streaming apps, magazine apps, newspaper apps, would be allowed to include links to their own websites, payment methods.
Indian developers see a lot of hope in the Korean law, as it now gives India’s competition regulator, the Indian Competition Commission (ICC) an important precedent to follow. “CCI had called a meeting to better understand the problem. He also conducted independent studies to determine what the right approach is, ”said George.
While CCI can’t make laws, George says if he berated Apple or Google and called those practices anti-competitive, it could actually go a long way. “India is a more price sensitive market and most Indian companies / app developers operate on lower margins making it much more difficult to navigate with the 30% tax. Payment cycles further compound the problem by adding to the pressures on cash flow, ”he points out.
Korean law also comes as CCI investigates antitrust claims against Apple over the 30% in-app fee. The case was filed by the NGO ‘Together, let’s fight society’, based in Rajasthan. In the United States, too, regulators oppose Apple’s strict control over the App Store.
Meanwhile, Google had responded to South Korean regulations saying its model and payment system was helping keep Android free. “We will be thinking about how to comply with this law while maintaining a model that supports a high quality operating system and app store, and we will share more in the coming weeks,” said a spokesperson.
But the problem for app developers in India isn’t just with payments, which impact a very small percentage of apps on both platforms anyway. The main concern is distribution and being trapped in the policies of Google and Apple.
“Most Indian application developers have fallen victim to the arbitrary and authoritarian application of the anti-competitive policies and practices of the application market monopolies of Apple and Google. In the absence of enabling legislation, our application developers will always have a hard time getting even redress of grievances, forgetting difficult anti-competitive practices, ”says George.
This is a view shared by other platforms such as Indus OS, which is an alternative app store with over 400,000 developers. Indus OS also powers the Galaxy app store on Samsung phones in India.
“It is extremely clear that there is a need for another store in the market. Developers have no choice… they need more options, ”says Rakesh Deshmukh, CEO and co-founder of Indus App Bazaar. In his view, the history of payments and distribution is intertwined and these issues cannot be viewed in isolation.
While he acknowledges that the ICC cannot pass a law as it is only a regulator, Deshmukh also believes that if the antitrust regulator were to label these practices as monopolistic, it would be beneficial. “If CCI makes it clear that there has to be a choice available to developers, whether it’s alternative payment or distribution, that would be huge. This is what we hope to see at some point, ”he adds.
Deshmukh also points out that Google does not allow another app store on its platform, which also ensures that Indus OS cannot be downloaded as an app from the store. In his opinion, users should be free to download the app or app store of their choice. “It should be as easy as downloading an application to the PC,” he says.
While Apple and Google insist that the reason for this control is user safety and security, it should be noted that on laptops, users can download any apps they want without worrying about whether they may or may not be in the App Store. For example, the Chrome browser is not on the Mac App Store, but you can download and install it on your MacBook.
For future platforms, navigating Google Play’s policies isn’t easy. In fact, when WinZo, the online arcade gaming platform, was pulled from Google Play in 2017, they had to switch to a new model.
“At first we thought it was the end for us (when they were banned from Google). But we have opened up a whole new model of distribution through micro-influencers, ”Saumya Singh Rathore, co-founder of WinZo told TechToSee.com. “We bonded with about two lakh more micro-influencers, who now generate around a billion views for us and even the biggest influencers have bonded with us. So yeah, it might seem like Google is the only major distribution platform, but we’ve found an alternative.
It should be noted that WinZo advertises itself as a platform where game developers can publish their games, although most of them have an element of skill that would technically also violate Google’s anti-gambling policy. . In 2020, Google removed Paytm from the Play Store due to anti-gambling policy violations.
But WinZo isn’t just about skill games. It is a platform where other developers publish their games. “We don’t take these big commissions. We do not make subscriptions or in-app purchases. We are focusing on a micro-transaction driven model, ”says Rathore, adding that they have nearly 50 million users.
In his view, while India may take a long time to regulate Google’s monopoly, it must be done to help “make many businesses sustainable.”
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