Finally Android users can use alternative search and payment methods… but only in India

Android users in India will soon have more control over their devices thanks to a court ruling. Starting next month, Indian Android users will be able to choose a different billing system when paying for apps and in-app smartphone purchases instead of going through the Play Store by default. Google will also allow Indian users to choose a different search engine as the default right when setting up a new device, which could impact upcoming EU rules.

The move follows a ruling by India’s Supreme Court last week. The trial began late last year when the Competition Commission of India (CCI) fined Google $161 million ($224) for imposing restrictions on its manufacturing partners. Google attempted to challenge the order by maintaining this type of practice barn the Android ecosystem and that “no other jurisdiction has ever required such far-reaching changes”.

Google lost this battle. Indian Android users now have the option to select a default search engine from the initial setup screen for Android smartphones and tablets. And they can also choose another billing service for apps and games to bypass Google’s fees, although developers can still offer the option to use Google Play.

Google can also no longer require its branded apps to be installed in order to license it to run the Android operating system. From now on, device makers in India can license “individual Google apps” at will for pre-installation instead of having to bundle the entire kit and bundle of cables. Google is also updating Android compatibility requirements for its OEM partners to “create non-compatible or forked variants.”

Google still plans to appeal “certain aspects of the CCI decisions,” though it’s obviously not too happy about it. From the blog:

Implementing these changes across the ecosystem will be a complex process and will require significant work on our part and, in many cases, significant effort from partners, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and developers.

India is one of the dominant markets of the Android platform, so it will be interesting to see how the country’s users deal with this legislation. Of particular note is how users will respond, being able to choose whether to purchase apps and other in-app purchases through the Play Store, where Google deducts 30% from each transaction, or through an alternative billing service such as JIO Money or Paytm – or even Amazon Pay, available in India.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because Google has already been in hot water trying to keep transactions flowing on the Play Store. Remember the Fortnite debacle between Epic Games and Google (and Apple)? Epic sued because Google said allowing the company to sell in-game currency directly through its website violated Play Store App Store policies because it meant Google didn’t get a percentage of the sale.

What’s happening in India could very well be a story about what’s in store for Google with the other antitrust cases it’s juggling. Google is embroiled in a similar battle with the EU, where it has already been fined $8.24 (11) billion for anti-competitive practices. The initial charges accused Google of requiring phone makers to install its Chrome mobile browser and search tools on its devices, and even offered financial incentives to get the apps on phones. And for those companies that don’t comply, Google would have blocked access to the Google Play Store, the app store that powers the entire ecosystem.

The US Department of Justice is suing Google’s parent company Alphabet for the second time this week over practices in its digital advertising business, alleging the company “corrupted legitimate competition in the ad-tech industry” to expand its monopoly.


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