Google plans crackdown on major developers circumventing Play Store in-app purchase rules

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According to a report this morning from Bloomberg, Google plans to crack down on apps that have long circumvented existing Play Store rules related to in-app purchase billing. The crackdown will come in the form of “updated guidelines” as early as next week, the report says, and developers will be given time to comply.

The Alphabet Inc. unit plans to issue updated guidelines as early as next week that clarify a requirement for most apps to use Google’s billing service for in-app content downloads, game upgrades and subscriptions. This system gives the company a 30% cut of purchases inside of apps on Android. While this requirement has existed for years, some major developers including Netflix Inc., Spotify Technology SA, Match Group Inc. and Epic Games Inc., have circumvented the rule.

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Apple has come under fire in recent months for what many large developers believe are unfair policies around in-app purchases. Most notably, Epic Games recently pushed an update to its iOS and Android Fortnite releases that circumvented Apple and Google’s billing systems, thereby circumventing the 30% cut that each store takes for each purchase. Both companies responded by removing the game from their stores.

While that has left Epic with no alternative for releasing Fortnite on iOS, Android has long supported third-party app stores, one of which is run by Epic itself — although Epic argues that even this is unfair because of Google’s built-in warnings to users presented when installing these third-party stores.

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Today’s report is about Google’s enforcement of these rules. While the company promptly removed Fortnite for circumventing the requirement that apps use Google’s service, it has long allowed major developers like Netflix, Spotify, and others to ignore the rule. Now, those apps will have to comply, which will likely result in them updating their apps to more closely reflect their iOS counterparts — which don’t offer users the ability to subscribe within the app at all.

When Google’s updated guidelines are implemented, major developers currently not in compliance will be given time to update their apps and are unlikely to be immediately removed, according to the people with knowledge of the move. They asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

It’s yet to be seen exactly how these new guidelines — or their enforcement — will differ from the existing rules, but Google’s appliation of its guidelines have long been inconsistent across the size and scope of the developers affected. It’s likely this change is primarily aimed at consistency.

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