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Dutch antitrust authority probes Google’s app payment rules

Google’s app store rules are being investigated by the Netherlands’ Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) after dating app Match complained about terms and conditions for the in-app payment service Google Play Billing, regulators said.

“The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has decided to launch a preliminary investigation into a possible abuse of dominance by Google Play Store,” a spokesperson from the Dutch agency told POLITICO on Wednesday. “Dating-app providers allegedly are no longer able to use a payment system other than Google’s payment system.”

“Dating apps claim they are no longer allowed to refer to other payment methods,” the spokesperson said. “Match Group has filed a request for enforcement with ACM, asking ACM to assess whether Google abuses its dominant position.”

The probe widens a global row over how Google and Apple set the rules for the software developers that rely on app stores to reach customers of Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS-based phones and tablets. The ACM has already ordered Apple to offer alternative payment methods to apps and fined €50 million for non-compliance. On Monday, it said it was seeking a new order to levy new fines. Match supported the ACM in Dutch litigation over the case last year.

A Google spokesperson said Match apps “pay just 15 percent on Google Play for digital subscriptions, which is the lowest rate among major app platforms.” The search giant’s Android operating system “provides them multiple ways of distributing their apps to Android users, including through other Android app stores, directly to users via their website or as consumption-only apps,” the company said.

The new Dutch case could be echoed elsewhere in Europe. A similar complaint targeting Google was also filed with Germany’s Federal Cartel Office. The European Commission escalated another aspect of phone payments this week by sending formal antitrust objections to Apple over access to its tap-and-go technology.

New Google Play Store rules came into force in April which require developers to use the firm’s own payment system for the sale of app services. Google says that any apps that don’t comply will be removed from the Play Store from June 1.

Apps with an annual turnover of over $1 million should pay a 30 percent commission to Google on sales made through the company’s in-app payment system. Those earning under this threshold pay a 15 percent cut to Google.

Match didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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