36 states launch antitrust suit against Google over the Play Store (update)

It's the fourth antitrust action against the search giant.

Jim Young / reuters

Google has yet another antitrust lawsuit on its hands. Politico reports 36 states and Washington DC have banded together to sue the company over its handling of the Play Store. They say Google's control over the marketplace violates US antitrust law. The bipartisan group of attorneys general behind the suit filed the case in the same California federal court where Judge James Donato is scheduled to hire Epic's suit against Google over Fortnite's removal from the Play Store last year.

This latest action is the fourth antitrust lawsuit launched against Google following three similar claims in 2020. In December, a group of 38 states and territories led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser filed antitrust charges against the company over its search business. The tech giant is also the subject of a Department of Justice probe.

The timing of Wednesday's suit follows after Google recently lowered its Play Store commission fee to 15 percent on the first $1 million developers earn on the marketplace every year. When Google announced the change back in March, it claimed it would reduce the fees it takes from 99 percent of Android developers by 50 percent. Later this year, Google also plans to enforce a policy that will require all developers to process their payments through the Play Store's billing system. The announcement led to uproar among companies like Netflix and Spotify that had in the past skirted that requirement.

While the Play Store comes preinstalled on the majority of Android devices, it is not the only place where you can download software to your phone. Amazon and Samsung operate their own app stores. It's also possible to sideload Android apps from websites like APK Mirror, allowing you to bypass the Play Store completely. Both those facts are not true of iOS devices where Apple's App Store is the only place where you can download software for your iPhone or iPad.

Today's suit also comes a little more than a week after a federal judge in Washington dismissed the FTC's antitrust complaint against Facebook, saying the agency hadn't presented sufficient evidence to back up its claims that the social media giant is a monopoly.

Update 07/07/21 10:30PM ET: Colorado has joined the lawsuit against Google, bringing the total number of states to 37. The tech giant has published a blog post defending its practices, however, calling the lawsuit "strange" and "meritless" for "attacking a system that provides more openness and choice than others." Google's Senior Director of Public Policy, Wilson White, concluded the post with this note: "This lawsuit isn't about helping the little guy or protecting consumers. It's about boosting a handful of major app developers who want the benefits of Google Play without paying for it."