Google and Android app developers are fighting, and we’re losing

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Epic Games legal battles with Apple and Google over in-app purchases Fortnite have been ongoing since August 2020. Over the past few months, more and more companies have pushed back against Google, which has impacted how people can (or can’t) spend money in android apps.

Google requires all Android apps in the Play Store to use the company’s own Play billing system if an app or game wanted to offer in-app purchases, such as in-game cosmetic items. Play Billing is available in over 135 countries and supports many different payment methods, but Google takes a small share of each transaction to cover operating costs. Previously, service fees were 30% of each transaction, but last year Google started reducing them to 15% for most apps.

Google has technically required apps to use Play Billing for many years, instead of other payment methods (e.g. the app itself storing your credit card numbers), but the company only started enforcing the rule until June 1, 2022. After that date, apps could no longer process payment details themselves, which could increase profits for developers — everything had to go through Google.

Buy coins in Pokemon Go
Buy Coins in Pokémon Go with Google Play Billing

So why is all of this important? Well, some apps and services are changing how they work on Android to conform to Google’s rules, while others might be kicked out of the Play Store entirely.

Match Group, which owns dating apps Tinder, OkCupid and Match, filed a lawsuit against Google last month for “anti-competitive tactics” for payments. The legal battle is still ongoing, but Google later agreed to keep Tinder and other apps on the Play Store until a deal is reached. Kakao, a popular messaging app in South Korea, has been blocked from updating its Android app until it complies with payment rules. The company finally said on July 14 that it would eliminate external payments.

So far, no top apps or games have been removed from the Play Store due to the new rules, except for Fortnite. However, some popular apps have already been updated to comply. Barnes & Noble and Audible have removed the ability to purchase books through their Android apps, rather than giving Google a discount, so books can only be purchased by visiting stores in a web browser.

Google creates an exception to the new rules for certain apps, called “User Choice Billing”, but Spotify is the only partner for now. Whether you think Google’s position is right or not, the changes have already caused some inconvenience for smartphone owners, and it could get worse over time.

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