The Delhi High Court on Monday directed India's antitrust regulator, the Competition Commission of India, to take up the applications moved by an alliance of start-ups challenging Google's new in-app user choice billing policy and deciding the same on or before April 26.

Justice Tushar Rao Gedela pronounced the order on the plea moved by the Alliance of Digital India Foundation, a lobby representing the interests of various stakeholders including start-ups and app developers.

"There is no impediment, whether legal or otherwise, in directing the CCI to hear the applications filed by the petitioner under section 42 and decide it on or before April 26," the judge ordered.

Google had earlier mandated app developers to use its payment method named Google Play Billing System (GPBS) for all transactions, including paid app downloads and in-app purchases.

However, in January 2023, the Alphabet-owned company announced major changes to its user choice billing. "Through user choice billing, developers can offer users the option to choose an alternative billing system alongside Google Play's billing system when purchasing in-app digital content," the tech giant said.

The new in-app purchase billing system comes into effect on April 26.

ADIF had petitioned the regulator to keep Google's proposed new billing policy in abeyance. "If the regulator is in the process of adjudicating on it and doesn't come to a conclusion by April 26, it should keep the policy in abeyance. If they don't keep it in abeyance, they will be in violation of the high court order of today," it said.

This comes nearly six months after CCI imposed a penalty of ₹936.44 crore on the tech behemoth for anti-competitive practices in relation to its Play Store policies. Google's Play Store policies require the app developers to "exclusively and mandatorily" use Google Play's Billing System (GPBS) not only for receiving payments for apps (and other digital products like audio, video, games) distributed/sold through the Google Play Store but also for certain in-app purchases, the CCI had said.

"Further, app developers cannot, within an app, provide users with a direct link to a webpage containing an alternative payment method or use language that encourages a user to purchase the digital item outside of the app," the order said.

"If the app developers do not comply with Google's demand of using GPBS, they are not permitted to list their apps on the Play Store and thus, would lose out the vast pool of potential customers in the form of Android users," it added.

"Making access to the Play Store dependent on mandatory usage of GPBS for paid apps and in-app purchases is one sided and arbitrary and devoid of any legitimate business interest. The app developers are left bereft of the inherent choice to use payment processor of their liking from the open market. The Commission is of the view that the conduct of Google constitutes an imposition of unfair condition on app developers," the antitrust watchdog had said.

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