Indian start-ups mull alliance to develop Google Play alternative

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on October 01, 2020

Concerns over Google’s app store policy updates behind move

A group of Indian start-up entrepreneurs is exploring the possibility of forming an alliance to develop a homegrown alternative app store to reduce reliance on Google Play, TechCrunch reported.

The names include some high-profile entrepreneurs including Paytm’s co-founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma, MakeMyTrip’s Deep Kalra and executives from PolicyBazaar and Sharechat, among others.

Also read: Controversy over Google and Paytm underlines the challenge policymakers face

Dozens of executives had gotten on a call on Tuesday to discuss the way forward following Google’s recent announcement of an update in its payments policy, said the report.

Google’s payment policy

Google’s payment policy states that developers using Google Play to distribute their apps will be required to use Play’s billing system starting next year if they offer in-app purchases of digital goods. They will also be required to pay a 30 per cent cut to the tech giant for using the billing system.

This has led to the entrepreneurs stepping up talks for an alliance, the report said.

Vishal Gondal, founder of fitness start-up GOQii, confirmed the talks to TechCrunch, adding that an alternative app store can boost the Indian digital ecosystem.

Several entrepreneurs spoke up against Google’s updated policy after the tech giant detailed the changes in a blog post.

“India needs a local app store long term else 30% tax will eat up most businesses, is anyone trying to build one?” tweeted Harshil Mathur, co-founder and CEO of Razorpay.

Murugavel Janakiraman, founder and CEO of classifieds platform BharatMatrimony, called the policy ‘atrocious’. The that the 30 per cent fee is ‘too much,’ a Times of India report quoted him as saying.

“This would be death for the Indian digital ecosystem. Google controls 95 per cent of the app ecosystem in India. If you take 30 per cent of revenue, companies can’t survive,” he was further quoted as saying.

Google vs Paytm

Google had drawn flak earlier this month after it had temporarily removed Paytm’s app citing the violation of its in-app gambling-related policies. Paytm said it was forced to remove the UPI cashback and scratch cards campaign to comply with Google’s mandate and get re-listed on the Android Play Store.

Also read: Paytm Money starts stockbroking business

Paytm in an official statement had expressed disappointment at the incident, stating that it was “arm-twisted” by the search engine major to comply with its biased Play policies that are meant to artificially create Google’s market dominance.

“Offering both is legal in India, and cashback was being given following all rules and regulations set by the government,” it had said.

Many experts had called for regulatory intervention after the incident.

Also read: India must rein in digital monopolies

Google had also sent notices to Swiggy and Zomato regarding their in-app gamification features violating its Play guidelines, according to an ET report.

Global concerns

Globally, concerns have been raised about app stores’ “monopolistic” practices. Similar concerns have been raised about Apple’s 30 per cent ‘Apple tax’. Many developers have called out these app stores’ policies as ‘anti-competitive’.

Earlier this month, a group of leading app developers including Spotify, ‘Fortnite’ maker Epic Games, Basecamp and ‘Tinder’ parent Match Group banded together to form an independent non-profit organisation called Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) to urge Apple and other app store owners to make changes to their business practices.

Possible alternatives

Google, however, in its recent update, had also stated that it will be making it easier for users to download and use third-party app stores. Many Indian developers are already toying with the idea of creating a homegrown app store.

Currently, one of the viable options for an Indian app store is Samsung-backed Indus OS which had clocked over 100 million monthly active users last month, according to TechCrunch.

“We at @indusos have built India's App Store, Indus App Bazaar. We don't charge any App Store tax. Our aim is to create a truly Indian Internet ecosystem, made by and made for Indian,” the company’s co-founder Akash Dongre had tweeted earlier this week.

Published on October 01, 2020

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