Paytm, GOQii, Dream11 founders take Google billing row to MeitY virtually
Several of India’s top startup entrepreneurs met virtually with government officials on Saturday to escalate their concerns over American internet major Google’s billing policies and dominance of the country’s digital applications market, multiple people privy to discussions told ET.

Nearly forty entrepreneurs including Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, GOQii’s Vishal Gondal, Anand Lunia of India Quotient and Gautam Mago of A91 Partners, as well as the founders of Innov8, Bharat Matrimony, upGrad, Dream11, and TrulyMadly presented their views to the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) secretary Ajay Sawhney, who chaired the meeting, sources said.

Read: Govt open to launching an Indian app store as alternative to Google, Apple

“The short-term issue is Google’s billing policy. The long-term issue is Google’s 95% control of the app ecosystem. They dominate the Internet in India,” said BharatMatrimony Group’s CEO Murugavel Janakiraman.

“It is like Google is the emperor and all the (Indian) internet companies are its slaves. We will decide what’s the next step,” he said.

Graphic: Rahul Awasthi
Graphic: Rahul Awasthi

The irate founders are seeking government intervention to first bring a stay order on the compulsory 30% commission on in-app purchases on the Google Play Store, which the tech giant will enforce from next year. In addition, the startup executives also highlighted what they view as Google’s “heavy handed policies” that are used to ban apps on its Play Store.

MeitY had also invited representations from startups not opposed to Google’s policies, in order to ensure a fair hearing, several people aware of the matter told ET. Those present at the meeting said the discussions on Saturday were “preliminary” and that “no official representations were made”.

“We were asked to share our concerns in writing with the department (MeitY) soon,” said a founder on condition of anonymity. Separately, a government official told ET that the ministry was also considering multiple other representations on the issue, without divulging any further details.

Emails sent to MeitY secretary Sawhney, Google, Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, and upGrad did not elicit a response until press time. Dream11 declined to comment.

Read: After expensive billing, startups raise fake apps issue with Google

Sources said the discussions revolved largely around the recent temporary ban on Paytm by Google for what it said were “ violations of its PlayStore policies.”

“Google Pay is becoming a monopoly for in-app payments and paying a 30% cut for every in-app purchase will hurt Indian startups,” said one founder present in the meeting.

Indian entrepreneurs are also seeking “”decoupling” of Google’s PlayStore from its Android operating system, which runs on over 90% of smartphones in India.

This is an issue that is similar to what Google is facing with regulators in the US and Europe — where Google allows manufacturers to access its PlayStore only if they abide by its guidelines for how they use Android. Moreover, app developers not featured on the PlayStore find it hard to distribute their apps since there’s a trust deficit among users to install apps not vetted by Google.

After Google updated its policy on payments, Indian founders came together to form a lobbying group to take a stand against the Internet firm’s policies and bat for an ‘Atmanirbhar’ app store. In the second meeting, the founders will present possible solutions. The long-term focus is to de-bundle the PlayStore, Android and payment system from each other, according to founders who allege that the Google ecosystem has led to an unfair Internet monopoly.

Startup executives also apprised the government on other issues they face including the way in which Google’s Android operating system restricts the download of apps through an Android Application Package (APK) link by showing users a security warning. Many apps that are not allowed on Play store reach their potential customers through APK app download links on their website.

“Google has propaganda against APKs, which they only invented. They use statements like that this file can harm your device. You also have to change your default settings to allow the download of APK files from external sources. At each step you lose 20% users,” said Snehil Khanor, CEO of dating app TrulyMadly.

Founders also spoke of how Google implements policies that contradict Indian law such as the exclusion of real money gaming apps, “arbitrary” takes down apps, delays taking down fake apps, and it not allowing download of other competing app stores from Google Play.

“The government is open to suggestions. The question is how to implement those suggestions,” said Vishal Gondal, Founder & CEO of health-tech firm GOQii and nCore Games, which launched the gaming app FAU-G after PUB-G was banned in India.

Last week ET reported that Google had sent notices to online food ordering apps Swiggy and Zomato regarding their in-app gamification features that supposedly violated its PlayStore guidelines. While Zomato said it was rejigging its Zomato Premier League product to become compliant with Google’s policies, Swiggy is understood to have paused its in-app gamification features.





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