Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and a bipartisan group of 52 other AGs on Dec. 19 announced a $700 million agreement with Google, resolving their lawsuit regarding the company’s alleged monopoly tactics with the Google Play Store. A settlement in principle was announced in September. The AG’s Office noted the agreement would be finalized in 30 days and submitted to the court for approval before the details would be made public.
According to the announcement, the AGs sued Google in 2021, alleging the company unlawfully monopolized the Android app distribution and in-app payment processing market. Specifically, the states claimed Google signed anticompetitive contracts to prevent other app stores from being preloaded on Android devices, bought off key app developers who might have launched rival app stores, created technological barriers to deter consumers from directly downloading apps to their devices and imposed monopoly prices on in-app purchases.
The AG’s Office noted consumers who made purchases on the Google Play Store between August 2016 and September 2023 and were harmed by Google’s anticompetitive practices will be eligible for restitution. Eligible consumers don’t have to submit a claim. If eligible, consumers will receive automatic payments through PayPal or Venmo or may elect to receive a check or ACH transfer. More details about that process are forthcoming, according to the announcement.
The AG’s Office explained the agreement also requires Google to do the following:
- Give all developers the ability to allow users to pay through in-app billing systems other than Google Play billing for at least five years.
- Allow developers to offer cheaper prices for their apps and in-app products for consumers who use alternative, non-Google billing systems for at least five years.
- Permit developers to steer consumers toward alternative, non-Google billing systems by advertising cheaper prices within their apps themselves for at least five years.
- Not enter into contracts that require the Play Store to be the exclusive, pre-loaded app store on a device or home screen for at least five years.
- Allow the installation of third-party apps on Android phones from outside the Google Play Store for at least seven years.
- Revise and reduce the warnings that appear on an Android device if a user attempts to download a third-party app from outside the Google Play Store for at least five years.
- Maintain Android system support for third-party app stores, including allowing automatic updates, for four years.
- Not require developers to launch their app catalogs on the Play Store at the same time as they launch on other app stores for at least four years.
- Submit compliance reports to an independent monitor who will ensure Google isn’t continuing its anticompetitive conduct for at least five years.
According to the announcement, for much of this case, the AGs litigated alongside Fortnite maker Epic Games and Match. Match, which operates Tinder, announced a separate settlement earlier this year. Epic Games took its case to trial, according to the AG’s Office. Early last week, a jury unanimously found Google’s anticompetitive conduct violated federal antitrust laws.
AGs from North Carolina, Utah, Tennessee, New York and California led the lawsuit and were joined by the AGs of all remaining states, the District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, according to the announcement.
“Google illegally restricted developers and consumers from freely doing business with each other, which harmed everyone who buys and sells apps and in-app products,” Weiser said in a press release. “After years of the company flouting a core principle of the free market—that consumers should be able to shop around to find the best price—this settlement will hold Google accountable under antitrust laws.”
The AG’s Office noted this case parallels separate pending antitrust litigation against Google brought by 38 states and the U.S Department of Justice which went to trial in September. That lawsuit, co-led by Weiser, is focused on how Google has allegedly abused its dominance in search and search advertising to harm competition and consumers, according to the announcement.