Google in spat with Taiwanese government

Taiwan’s Taipei City Government has accused Google of attempting “to hold Taiwan’s consumers hostage, in exchange for the privilege of refusing to follow Taiwanese law.” The accusation arises from a dispute between Google and Taiwanese regulators that has resulted in the suspension of all paid-for applications in the Android market in that country.

Google has fallen foul of Taiwan’s consumer protection legislation, requiring online retailers to offer consumers a seven-day cooling-off period, during which they can get a full refund for any purchases; the search giant operates on a 15 minute return policy, which is argues is ample time for consumers to change their minds. Apple’s iTunes and App Store offerings are also covered by the legislation, and Cupertino has complied; Google’s refusal has seen the company fined Tw$1m ($24,000) by the Taiwanese government.

Google is adamant that its 15 minute refund window is more than adequate and reflects the near-instant delivery of the content. Rather than give in to pressure from Taiwanese authorities, the company has suspended paid-for applications while it attempts to talk the government around to its point of view. The rigor of Taiwan’s response to Google’s stubbornness has raised eyebrows in some quarters; local device-maker-done-good HTC can attribute much of its growth to the success of the Android operating system, and the knock-on effects for other device and component manufacturers on the island is undeniable. The more cynically inclined had pointed to the imminence of Taiwan’s elections as a motivating factor, with politicians keen to be seen standing up for consumer rights.

The spat in Taiwan comes in the same week that Google confirmed it is to be the subject of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation into its business practices, including search and advertising. The company’s dominance of the search market has led to complaints from competitors. Google’s search and advertising revenues are worth an estimated $29bn annually. In November last year, the European Commission launched a similar investigation into the company’s market dominance. In April, the company agreed to submit to independent privacy audits instigated by the FTC following allegations that its failed Buzz social networking service violated user privacy.

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