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Google faces new antitrust lawsuit over Google Play Store fees

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A state AG lawsuit brings echoes of the Epic v. Apple case

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

On Wednesday, a coalition of state attorneys general launched a new antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the search giant of abusing its control of the Android app store, as reported by Bloomberg.

The lawsuit, filed by 36 states and Washington, DC, in California federal court, challenges Google’s policy forcing Google Play app developers to pay a 30 percent commission fee on sales made through the app. Google recently expanded the fees to cover more digital goods purchased on the Play Store, taking particular aim at a number of prominent apps that had previously been able to sidestep the tax. The full complaint, which you can view here or at the bottom of this article, lists the defendants as Google, Alphabet, and subsidiaries in Ireland and Asia.

“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,” Google wrote in a blog post responding to the lawsuit. “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.”

In August, Fortnite developer Epic Games sued Google on similar grounds, claiming that the company’s practices have raised prices for consumers online, although the lawsuit was largely overshadowed by Epic’s parallel case against Apple and its App Store. Still, the state AGs’ lawsuit is likely to have more force, coming from designated state-level regulators.

The lawsuit comes amid mounting federal pressure on Google, which is already facing three federal antitrust lawsuits, including an ongoing Justice Department case accusing the company of monopoly practices in search advertising.

Android has typically been seen as less of an antitrust threat than Apple’s iOS, since it does not require Google Play as the sole source of software on the phone. However, the growing pressure on Apple has called many aspects of the Play Store’s fee structure into question.

In recent hearings, lawmakers and regulators have repeatedly questioned Apple and Google’s abilities to make their app stores the defaults on mobile devices, a practice that often extends to specific apps. More recently, Google joined Apple in lowering its fee to 15 percent for smaller developers, a move widely seen as a response to mounting public pressure.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update July 7th, 7:39PM ET: Added link to and an embed of the full complaint.

Update July 8th, 3:30AM ET: Added Google statement and link to blog post.