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Tinder operator Match sues Google over Play Store billing

Legal gavel and smartphone

Match Group runs a bunch of dating apps and it reckons Google is abusing its power by making its own billing system mandatory on the Play Store.

This new legal action, which even has its very own website, is highly reminiscent of the Epic vs Apple case, which concluded in an apparent score-draw last year, leaving legal precedent still somewhat up in the air. So it looks like Match, which operates the dating apps Tinder, OkCupid and Match, has decided get the courts to take another look at the whole app store billing issue, this time focusing on the other duopolist.

“Earlier this year, when Google touted the benefits of ‘user choice,’ I was hopeful they were going to lead the way to a fairer Google Play Store,” said Shar Dubey, CEO of Match Group. “Unfortunately, their demand that we now remove user choice from our apps, something we’ve offered for years, and mandate their billing system which doesn’t have many features our users are used to and depend on, can only mean they don’t really care whether users are harmed in their efforts to extract their unfair share of fees from developers like us, while regulators in the U.S. are investigating this very issue, and regulators abroad are calling it illegal.”

“They control app distribution on Android devices, and pretend that developers could successfully reach consumers on Android elsewhere. It’s like saying ‘you don’t have to take the elevator to get to the 60th floor of a building, you can always scale the outside wall.’ It’s not legitimate. This lawsuit is a measure of last resort. We tried, in good faith, to resolve these concerns with Google, but their insistence and threats to remove our brands’ apps from the Google Play Store by June 1 has left us no choice but to take legal action.”

The thing referred to at the start of Dubey’s statement would appear to be this announcement. In it, Google spoke of a pilot of user choice billing, building on stuff that had been imposed on it in South Korea and starting with Spotify as an initial partner. Match is presumably upset that it has yet to be invited to the user choice party and, presumably, suspects it never will, hence the litigation.

Some indications of why the internet giant views Match less favourably than Spotify in this context are provided by Google’s strident response to the lawsuit, entitled ‘Setting the Record Straight on Match Group’s Cynical Campaign Against Google Play’. Wilson White, Google VP for Government Affairs & Public Policy, starts with the now familiar characterisation on his opponent as a bad-faith actor who greedily wants something for nothing. Once he gets the ad hominems out of his system, however, he eventually cuts to the chase and lists some claimed ‘facts’.

  • Our fees cover the full range of services that Google Play provides, not just payment processing.
  • Our fees are the lowest among major app stores.
  • Regulators are investigating Match Group’s safety problems.
  • Match Group has had ample time to make changes.
  • Match Group isn’t interested in true user choice billing.
  • We’re the only major app store piloting true user choice billing.

So it looks like Google doesn’t think much of the billing alternatives offered by Match and feels they fall short of the standard presumably reached by Spotify’s equivalents. Opinion is clearly divided on this matter and the initial impression is that Match will have to prove its billing system is being unfairly discriminated against by Google – i.e. that it’s no less ‘safe’ than Spotify’s.

We’ll leave it to experts to assess the merits of this specific legal action but, as one observes, the underlying issue really concerns the ability of developers, more than consumers, to use billing systems other than Google’s. Google and Apple have a clear duopoly over mobile app stores and both exploit that position to take a substantial piece of whatever commerce is conducted over all apps on their platforms.

They are obviously under no competitive pressure in this respect, which should be a matter of grave concern for antitrust authorities the world over. The fact that companies like Match and Epic feel compelled to go straight to the courts suggests a regulatory failure when it comes to mobile commerce. So it would be great if governments could spend a bit more time looking at this sort of thing and less trying to police digital speech.

 

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