Google App Billing: No SC Relief for Developers

In a setback to app developers, start ups and others, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to restrain Google from “delisting” their apps from its Play Store, an order that will make way for removal of their apps from the Google Play Store, if they don’t agree with the US tech major’s billing policy.

However, a Bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud while seeking response from Google India agreed to hear a batch of over 10 appeals challenging the tech giant alleged new “illegal” user choice billing policy.

Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi and Balbir Singh, appearing for the app developers and startups, sought protection for them till the disposal of the appeal, saying they will have to pay “higher fee mandatorily or would be blocked by the tech gaint and thus the petitioners would be soon out of business.”

The petitioners, including Verve Mobile, Alt digital Media, Crescere Technologies and Arha Media & Broadcasting, had challenged the Madras High Court’s January 19 judgment that dismissed their pleas as “not maintainable” on the ground that only the CCI had the jurisdiction to decide the issue. The HC had, however, asked Google not to de-list the startups’ mobile applications for three weeks

Stating that the jurisdiction of the High Court is not barred, some petitioners claimed that they were not alleging any “abuse of dominant position” under the Competition Act, but were against “one-sided and unconscionable” terms and conditions of the Google’s illegal payment policy which is in violation of the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007 and the same is outside the CCI’s jurisdiction and only a civil court can decide the issue.

“…the risk of delisting of the petitioner’s app from the Google Play Store on account of petitioner’s refusal/failure to accept or subscribe to Google’s Payment Policy thereby resulting in exiting from the market, looms on the petitioner…,” the start ups told the SC.

It is “Hobson’s choice” for them as the petitioners will either have to “succumb to the illegal agreement” relating to the Google’s Payment Policy as “this amounts to tortious interference with their business” and would cause grave prejudice to the petitioner, or exit the market altogether,” one of the appeals stated.

The CCI had in October 2022 fined Google ₹936.44 crore for abusing its dominant position about its Play Store policies and had asked it not to restrict app developers from using third-party billing services. It also directed the tech giant not to delist any of them from the Play Store and impose discriminatory conditions.

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Harry Byrne

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