The Competition Commission of India (CCI) recently passed a prima facie order holding the payment policy of Google Inc as made applicable on various apps listed on the Google Play Store anti-competitive and directing a detailed investigation into the matter.

The case was filed by a bunch of Indian start-ups, , where the burden of the complaint is that the search giant charges 26 per cent as commission fee on every paid download and in-app purchase transaction conducted by the end-user through the Play Store in violation of competition law.

The order comes in the backdrop of two recent contravention orders passed by the CCI against Google where it has imposed a combined penalty of around ₹2,200 crore. The Indian competition authority conducted an in-depth scrutiny of the search-giant’s businesses and held that data lies at the core of its revenue policy.

The CCI further held that mandatory instalment of Google’s ten proprietary apps on Android smartphones is abusive under the law. Apart from monetary penalty, the Commission imposed a host of behavioural remedies directing the company to discontinue the mandatory instalment of apps and incorporate modifications in the agreements signed between the search-giant and various OEMs manufacturing and distributing smartphones.

After the passage of the said orders, certain changes have been brought in the law. Through the Competition (Amendment) Act, 2023, the law now provides for imposition of higher penalties on the basis of global turnover on the contravening entities. The CDCL (Committee on Digital Competition Law) has further suggested enactment of a Digital Competition Act (DCA) where Big Tech entities like Google and Meta may have to further comply with certain ex-ante obligations. The proposed DCA, too, provides for use of global turnover. The earlier penalty orders were passed on the basis of national turnover.


The objectives of competition law include protection of interest of consumers on the one hand and freedom of trade of participants in the market on the other. The interests of consumers are mainly three-fold: lower prices, better quality and options to choose from. The Competition Act (2002), in contrast to the MRTP Act (1969), also seeks to ensure due autonomy to various commercial enterprises to promote innovation amidst competition.

One of the key fundamentals of this commercial autonomy is the ability to price. In certain cases, a producer may decide the selling price on a fixed-basis, or negotiate on a buyer-to-buyer basis depending on the nature of services offered. The differential pricing, under certain circumstances, could be violative of section 4(2)(a)(i)&(ii) as discriminatory condition or price. However, the scrutinised entity may still be at liberty to price its product below the prescribed cap.

Google is a multinational corporation which is known for some cutting-edge technology products like Android, Play Store and Google search which are now considered as inevitable partners for any business.

The CCI first indicated that 30 per cent commission rate might be too high for the company to charge for its Play Store services to which the search giant duly complied and reduced the commission to 26 per cent.

The Commission, however, has now taken a step beyond on a ‘short-term basis’ and introduced ‘cost-price’ as a matrix to assess the rationality of the commission rate charged by Google Inc. Again the excessive price could also be said to be violative of section 4(2)(a)(ii) as unfair price.

While the fallout of this decision is not yet fully known given that it is at the investigation stage, it is clear that the Commission is willing to expand its mandate beyond regulating competition — that is, getting into the question of determining pricing. This expansion is unknown to the existing competition framework.

Promoting competition in digital markets may be an unconventional task. From ‘economies of scale’ to ‘network effects’ to ‘winner-takes-all’ phenomenon, there are multiple factors on why digital markets tend to tip in favour of the incumbent faster than any other brick-and-mortar industry. This may call for governments to innovate with regulatory measures. Pricing, however, may be a different gamut. The ruling as given by the CCI has a potential to impinge upon the commercial autonomy of an entity.

Jain is Founding Director at the Centre for Competition Law and Economics, Vahini is Professor at Bennett University