A lawsuit that ignores choice on Android and Google Play

We built Android to create more choices in mobile technology. Today, anyone, including our competitors, can customize and build devices with the Android operating system — for free. 

We also built an app store, Google Play, that helps people download apps on their devices. If you don’t find the app you’re looking for in Google Play, you can choose to download the app from a rival app store or directly from a developer’s website. We don’t impose the same restrictions as other mobile operating systems do.

So it’s strange that a group of state attorneys general chose to file a lawsuit attacking a system that provides more openness and choice than others. This complaint mimics a similarly meritless lawsuit filed by the large app developer Epic Games, which has benefitted from Android’s openness by distributing its Fortnite app outside of Google Play.

Here’s more detail on how this lawsuit gets it wrong:

Google Play competes vigorously and fairly

The complaint limits its definition of the app marketplace to Android devices only. This completely ignores the competition we face from other platforms such as Apple's incredibly successful app store, which accounts for the majority of mobile app store revenues according to third-party estimates. We compete for both developers and consumers, and if we’re not providing them with the best experience on Google Play, they have other alternatives to choose from.

Android increases competition and choice

This complaint alleges that consumers and developers have no option other than to use Google Play. But that’s not correct. Choice has always been a core tenet of Android. Device makers and carriers can preload competing app stores alongside Google Play on their devices. In fact, most Android devices ship with two or more app stores preloaded. And popular Android devices such as the Amazon Fire tablet come preloaded with a competitive app store and no Google Play Store.

An image of a Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone, showing a Galaxy Store and a Play Store. Text: Most Android phones come preloaded with more than one app store.

Consumers can also “sideload” apps, meaning they can download them from a developer’s website directly without going through Google Play at all. People sideload successful apps like Fortnite, as well as entire app stores like the Amazon Appstore, neither of which are distributed through Google Play.

Contributing to this openness and choice, we also give developers more ways to interact with their customers compared to other operating systems. For example, Google Play allows developers to communicate with their customers outside the app about subscription offers or a lower-cost offering on a rival app store or the developer’s website.

Google Play helps developers succeed

The complaint suggests that Google Play somehow inhibits developers’ ability to grow. Even though developers have a range of distribution options on Android, we’re proud that, as of February 2020, developers had earned over $80 billion through Google Play. And in 2020, the Android app economy, including Google Play, helped create nearly 2 million American jobs

An image of the United States in blue. Text: In 2020, the Android app economy, including Google Play, helped create 1.98 million American jobs

We provide resources to help developers build great apps, lower their costs and grow their businesses. This includes tools that help developers reduce testing burdens, run beta tests and monitor their app at scale. We also invest significantly in security. Google Play Protect, our security service, now scans more than 100 billion apps every day; in 2019, it prevented 1.9 billion malware installs.

The economic model of Play and Android benefits developers

The complaint is peppered with inflammatory language designed to distract from the fact that our rules on Android and Google Play benefit consumers. We stand behind apps distributed on Google Play, so we do have some rules to keep the store secure, protect privacy and prevent fraud. For example, we have rules around spam, app reviews and inappropriate content. These rules don't harm consumers; they help protect their safety and security. People want and expect this when using their phones. 

Under our Google Play billing policy, the 3% of developers who actually sell digital products or content use Google Play’s billing system and are subject to a progressive service fee: 15% on the first $1 million earned (99% of developers who pay any fee earn less than a million dollars), and then 30% for earnings above $1 million. Some large app developers, like Epic, want preferential rates and want to use their own payment processing system, but that would harm the ecosystem as a whole.

Two bar charts with a line from the first to the second. The first chart shows 97% and 3%, with text saying About 97% of developers will pay nothing. The second chart shows 99%, with text saying Of the 3% who do, 99% pay a reduced fee of 15%.

  • First, our current business model benefits the overwhelming majority of developers. About 97% of developers today don’t sell digital content on Google Play and therefore aren't subject to a service fee. Less than 0.1% of developers — who are the largest and most profitable on Google Play — are subject to a 30% service fee on some transactions. This lawsuit is essentially on behalf of that 0.1% of developers. Moreover, the complaint conspicuously fails to mention that our fee is comparable to other rival digital stores, including the Samsung Galaxy Store, Amazon Appstore, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and Apple App Store. 

A comparison chart of four different app stores. Google Play charges a 15-30% transaction fee, the Amazon Appstore charges a 20-30% transaction fee, the Galaxy Store charges a 30% transaction fee and the Apple App Store charges a 15-30% transaction fee. Disclaimer: Fees may vary based on type of content, subscription, or otherwise agreed-upon values.

  • Second, a centralized billing system protects consumers from fraud and gives consumers an easy way to track purchases in one place. It also enables us to provide robust parental and safety controls and subscription management tools that are critical to consumer trust.

Even with these rules, it’s worth reiterating: Developers who don’t like our policies can still distribute their apps to Android users directly or through rival app stores without using our billing system or paying us a cent — and many do. 

A meritless lawsuit that ignores Android’s openness

We understand that scrutiny is appropriate, and we’re committed to engaging with regulators. But Android and Google Play provide openness and choice that other platforms simply don’t. 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. Doing so risks raising costs for small developers, impeding their ability to innovate and compete, and making apps across the Android ecosystem less secure for consumers. 

For more information on Google Play, please visit our Android developer blog.