With recent app store controversies involving Spotify and Epic Games, the focus has been squarely on Apple and its App Store, even though the Fortnite publisher also has issues with Google and its Google Play store.
Spotify’s relationship with Google has been much friendlier: the companies have teamed up on smart-speaker giveaways, and Spotify has used direct credit-card billing for subscriptions in its Android app without also offering Google’s in-app purchases.
There may be trouble ahead. In a blog post this week, Google revealed not new rules, but plans to enforce the old rules that it hasn’t really been enforcing on Google Play.
“We’ve always required developers who distribute their apps on Play to use Google Play’s billing system if they offer in-app purchases of digital goods, and pay a service fee from a percentage of the purchase,” explained the post. “We have clarified the language in our Payments Policy to be more explicit that all developers selling digital goods in their apps are required to use Google Play’s billing system.”
Google is providing a long deadline for developers to fall into line: 30 September 2021. It also said that “less than 3% of developers with apps on Play sold digital goods over the last 12 months, and of this 3%, the vast majority (nearly 97%) already use Google Play’s billing”. But Spotify’s app is part of the remaining 3% of the 3%, while Netflix also allows in-app credit-card billing.
Spotify has yet to respond publicly to the news, and doesn’t need to, given that year-long period of grace before the enforcement kicks in. Google’s policies will remain different to Apple’s in another sense too: the company allows alternative app stores to be installed on Android devices, and indeed the same blog post this week said that next year’s version of Android will make that even easier.
Still, we suspect that the Coalition for App Fairness – of which Spotify, Epic Games and Deezer are founding members – may have something to say about Google’s plans to enforce its rules on in-app purchases. This time next year, some of the biggest independent streaming services could be at loggerheads with Apple AND Google over this issue.