Google is reportedly gearing up for a crackdown on in-app purchases for apps distributed via the Play Store. Google has long required that developers give the company a cut of in-app purchases, but it hasn't strictly enforced that rule for big names like Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify, who all allow for billing and purchases in their apps separately from Google's required system. According to Bloomberg, the day of reckoning is coming, and Google will reportedly update its guidelines as soon as next week to further clarify the billing requirement ahead of more aggressive enforcement.
Google's existing guidelines on the subject are pretty straightforward:
- Developers offering products within a game downloaded on Google Play or providing access to game content must use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment.
- Developers offering products within another category of app downloaded on Google Play must use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment, except for the following cases:
- Payment is solely for physical products
- Payment is for digital content that may be consumed outside of the app itself (e.g. songs that can be played on other music players).
Nonetheless, this policy hasn't prevented big-name companies from circumventing the requirement — probably by trying to rationalize it as one of the possible exceptions, and a more strict definition could be what is going to change.
We should also note, Google has a strong double-standard when it comes to developer support, giving big names an easy time and a wide berth while it more aggressively (and sometimes arbitrarily) enforces rules on smaller, independent developers, often making pretty serious mistakes in the process. In fact, Google's developer support is honestly considered something of a joke these days.
Developers not currently in compliance will be given a short (but undefined) grace period before the not-so-new-rules are more strictly expressed and enforced, according to Bloomberg.
For perspective, Apple has similar rules in place for its App Store, and it has been much more aggressive about enforcing them from the start. That's why apps like Kindle on the App Store can't let you purchase books from the app itself, and Netflix and Spotify won't let you sign up directly from their iPhone apps. In fact, Google was almost assuredly inspired to impose its own crackdown in light of what is marketed as a David vs. Goliath saga between Epic Games and both Apple and Google, which has brought these policies into the public's knowledge. Epic has been fighting against the 30% cut both app stores impose — while that can be circumvented on Android through third-party app stores and sideloading, iPhone users have no recourse or other source of apps other than Apple's monopolistic App Store.
The new Coalition for App Fairness — of which Epic, Match Group, Spotify, and Basecamp are all members — has also been fighting for a change to these practices. While the coalition only currently targets Apple (probably as a result of the company's defacto monopoly as the only source of apps on iOS), this more aggressive enforcement could bring its wrath down on Google as well.
Perhaps with this increased revenue, Google can finally start treating all developers the same and increase the level and quality of developer support it provides to everyone — not just big names.