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App delisting cannot be permitted: Minister Vaishnaw on Google-Indian startups row

The raging dispute is over Google imposing a fee of 11 to 26% on in-app payments after the anti-competition body CCI ordered scrapping of an earlier system of charging 15 to 30%.

App delisting cannot be permitted: Minister Vaishnaw on Google-Indian startups row

Saturday March 02, 2024 , 5 min Read

Taking a strong view of Google pulling off some apps from its Play Store, the government on Saturday said delisting of Indian apps cannot be permitted and that the tech company and the startups concerned have been called for a meeting next week.

In an interview to PTI, IT and Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the startup ecosystem is key to the Indian economy and their fate cannot be left to any big tech to decide.

The minister's comments assume significance as Google on Friday began removing some apps, including popular matrimony apps, from its Play Store in India over a dispute on service fee payments, even as apps and well-known startup founders cried foul.

Taking a serious view of the issue, Vaishnaw said, "India is very clear, our policy is very clear ... Our startups will get the protection that they need."

The minister said the government will be meeting Google and app developers who have been delisted, next week, to resolve the dispute.

"I have already called Google ... I have already called the app developers who have been delisted. We will be meeting them next week. This cannot be permitted.T his kind of delisting cannot be permitted," Vaishnaw asserted.

Stating that India has built a strong startup ecosystem of over one lakh startups and more than 100 unicorns from scratch in a matter of 10 years, the minister said the energy of youth and entrepreneurs must be channelised fully and "cannot be left to the policies of any big tech."

"I will be telling Google ... Our entrepreneurial energy ... startups, look at the whole startup India programme, 10 years back we had practically nothing and today we have more than 1,00,000 startups, more than 100 unicorns ... This is something ... The energy of our youth, the energy of our entrepreneurs, energy of our talented people that has to be channelised fully well, it cannot be left to the policies of any big tech," Vaishnaw said.

On Friday, Google said 10 companies in the country, including "many well-established" ones had avoided paying fees despite benefitting from the platform and Play Store, and proceeded to delist some apps.

It did not name the firms but a search of Play Store on Android phones did not give results for matrimonial apps such as Shaadi, Matrimony.com and Bharat Matrimony. Balaji Telefilms' Altt (formerly ALTBalaji), audio platform Kuku FM, dating service Quack Quack, and Truly Madly also disappeared from the Play Store.

The raging dispute is over Google imposing a fee of 11 to 26% on in-app payments after the anti-competition body CCI (Competition Commission of India) ordered scrapping of an earlier system of charging 15 to 30%.

Google went ahead to remove the apps not paying the fee after the Supreme Court did not provide interim relief to companies behind these apps in their battle against the search giant's app marketplace fee.

While Bharat Matrimony founder Murugavel Janakiraman described the move as a "dark day" for the internet in India, Kuku FM Co-founder Vinod Kumar Meena in a statement had said that Google was behaving like a 'monopoly'. Quack Quack Founder Ravi Mittal said the company would comply with rules to get back on the marketplace.

Google previously sent notices of Play Store violations to Matrimony.com, which runs app BharatMatrimony, and Info Edge, which runs a similar app, Jeevansathi.

Info Edge (India) Ltd on Saturday said its mobile apps, including naukri.com, 99 acres.com, and shiksha.com have been removed from Google Play Store.

"Indian companies will comply - for now. But what India needs is an App Store/ Play Store that is a part of Digital Public Infrastructure - like UPI and Open Network For Digital Commerce (ONDC). The response needs to be strategic," Info Edge founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani had said in a post on Friday on X (formerly Twitter) tagging Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and his office.

Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), an industry association that represents some of the largest Indian startups as well as international firms, condemned the removal of apps and had urged Google to reinstate delisted apps.

In its blogpost, Google had said 10 Indian companies had chosen for an extended period of time not to pay for the "immense value they receive on Google Play".

"For years, no court or regulator has denied Google Play's right to charge," it said, adding that the Supreme Court on February 9 also "refused to interfere" with its right to do so.

Google asserted that allowing a small group of developers to get differential treatment from the vast majority of developers who are paying their fair share creates an uneven playing field putting all other apps and games at a competitive disadvantage.

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"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," Google said.

In the blogpost, Google had said that enforcement of the policy, when necessary, can include removal of non-compliant apps from Google Play. Google, however, added that existing users will be able to continue to access the apps without interruption and that it continues "to offer our support to help developers get into compliance".

Developers, it said, are welcome to resubmit their apps to be listed on Play by selecting one of the three billing options as part of its payment policy.

"Today, we have over 2,00,000 Indian developers using Google Play who adhere to our policies, helping us ensure we have a safe platform; 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 the court," Google had said.


Edited by Swetha Kannan