Epic Games, the company behind the popular game Fortnite, has taken Google to the federal court over the latter’s app store practices. The antitrust lawsuit can potentially reshape how Android users get their apps and pay for in-app purchases should Epic win the case.
The lawsuit, which has been filed in the US District Court in the Northern District of California, is mainly focused on the fees charged by Google on one-off transactions and in-app transactions.
Developers like Epic Games also claim that Google’s app store terms allow the company to maintain an illegal monopoly in app distribution.
Google accused of Violating the US Antitrust Law
The way app store operators like Google and Apple work has been a topic of debate for years. However, despite questions being raised over whether they promote an open and competitive app ecosystem, both tech giants claim that their app stores help small businesses earn billions in revenue. The companies also argue that their users benefit from their security oversight, justifying their practices.
The trial will potentially see high-profile witnesses like Epic CEO Tim Sweeney and Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifying for their respective companies. Sweeny has accused Google of exerting control over user-developer transactions, violating the US antitrust law.
Google hit back at Epic, calling it an attempt to access the tech giant’s massive user base of 2.5 billion users around the world without having to pay to support the platform.
The court battle between Google and Epic originally started in 2020 when Epic came up with Project Liberty — a plan to work around the app store terms imposed by Google and Apple.
Epic also updated the Fortnite app, encouraging players to use the company’s own website instead of the in-app payment methods offered by Apple and Google to pay for in-app content.
This move by Epic Games violated Google and Apple’s app store developer terms, prompting them to remove fortnight from their stores. While Apple users can no longer use iOS devices to play Fortnite, the game is still available to Android users via other channels over which Google has no control over.
Epic to Face Google Alone
Epic wasn’t originally alone in its court battle against Google. The lawsuit initially involved a large number of plaintiffs, including online dating giant Match Group and dozens of state attorneys and individual consumers.
However, Google reached several settlements with the other plaintiffs, successfully removing them from the case and narrowing down its opponents.
Match accepted Google’s “user choice billing”, which allows developers to accept payments through means other than Google’s inbuilt payment system. However, Epic didn’t accept this solution and is now the sole plaintiff left in the lawsuit and will be facing Google alone.
The most relevant thing for us is showcasing to the jury how Android has created more choice, flexibility, and openness than any other platform.Wilson White, Google’s vice president of public policy and government affairs
He went on to claim that Epic had itself benefitted from the level of flexibility and choice offered by Google, calling the company’s claims “needless”. It remains to be seen how the court battle plays out and whether Epic can succeed in forcing Google to change its terms and fees.
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