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Karnataka HC disposes Google’s petition on CCI’s Play billing antitrust probe

Karnataka High Court disposed Google’s petition related to The Competition Commission of India (CCI)’s antitrust probe on its Play billing system on December 10, after a joint memo from the petitioner and the respondents seeking disposal of the petition.

Google had initially approached the court on December 27, seeking more time to respond to the questions from the CCI related to the mandatory use of its Play Store’s payment system for paid apps and in-app purchases.

The CCI had in November 2020 directed a probe into the issue of mandatory use of Google Play Store’s payment system for paid apps and in-app purchases. The commission is of the prima facie view that such a policy is unfair as it restricts the ability of app developers to select a payment processing system of their choice.

On October 11, Moneycontrol reported that the Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) had moved the CCI to seek interim relief against the implementation of the Google Play Store commission till the investigation into the tech giant’s abuse of dominance is complete.

ADIF is a New Delhi-based think tank comprising more than 470 entrepreneurs and startups, including the likes of Matrimony.com, Paytm, MapMyIndia, TrulyMadly, and GOQii among others.

Following the ADIF’s interim relief application in October 2021 that had detailed names of app developers affected by this policy, the CCI had directed Google to file its response by November 19, to which the firm had sought eight more weeks to respond. The CCI had, however, rejected this request and directed it to respond by December 31, 2021.

The regulator also rejected Google’s request for access to the identity of app developers and startups that had given evidence of allegedly suffering harm from these guidelines through the ADIF plea.

During the hearing on January 5, the CCI told the Karnataka High Court that its investigation arm Director General (DG) has given an assurance that they will complete the ongoing investigation on Google within 60 days ‘in all likelihood’.

Additional Solicitor General N Venkataraman, who was appearing on behalf of the competition watchdog, suggested that if the investigation itself will be completed, the judge can take the final hearing into account.

Google’s counsel Senior Advocate Gopal Subramanium had then submitted that if the inquiry is going to proceed, then the interim relief application by the Alliance of Digital India Foundation (ADIF) is entirely unnecessary, particularly since they have extended the deadline by seven months for app developers to integrate with its Play billing system in India to October 31, 2022, and there is no urgency on this matter.

A single-judge bench of Justice Krishna S Dixit had on January 5 directed the parties to file a joint memo for the disposal of the petition. ADIF will have the liberty to file a fresh interim relief application if the need arises.

CCI’s new antitrust probe
This development comes at a time when the CCI has opened a new antitrust investigation against Google over alleged abuse of dominant position in news aggregation, following a complaint filed by the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA).

The CCI said in the order that it is of the initial view that Google is dominant in the market for online general web search services and market for online search advertising services in India, which it believes is the relevant market for this case.

The competition regulator has also ordered similar antitrust probes against Google’s Android and its smart TV business alleging abuse of dominance. In 2018, it had imposed a fine of Rs 135.86 crore for “search bias” and abusing its dominant position in online general web search and web search advertising services in the country.

Apart from India, Google’s various businesses are also facing antitrust scrutiny from multiple regulators across the world. Moneycontrol

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