Startup founders take row with Google to CCI doors

Local foundersETtech

Illustration: Rahul Awasthi

India’s antitrust regulator on Friday met with a group of startup founders including the chief executive of Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, to understand the concerns raised by them over Google’s alleged misuse of market dominance in the country, two people directly aware of the matter told ET.

Founders of BharatMatrimony, MapMyIndia, TrulyMadly and nCore Games were also among the 13-15 entrepreneurs who attended the meeting with a senior Competition Commission of India (CCI) official, one of the people said.

They appraised the CCI official of instances where the US-based tech giant could be posing a monopoly risk to the country’s burgeoning app ecosystem, the people said.

This comes a week after a larger group of Indian startup founders
met with electronics and IT secretary Ajay Sawhney to express their concerns over Google’s Play Store practices.

Indian entrepreneurs ping Meity against GoogleETtech

Illustration: Rahul Awasthi

The watchdog is
conducting an antitrust probe against Google in India over its alleged abuse of its dominant position in the smart TV market by blocking companies wanting to develop new solutions on its Android system.

ET couldn’t ascertain if the CCI was considering any probe into the concerns raised by the startup founders. The commission, Google and Paytm didn’t respond to emails seeking comment till press time Sunday.

Deferment of 30% fee shows Google’s guilt: Paytm CEO

“Concerns related to Google’s monopoly and undue control in setting the rules for the Indian tech startups using its platform was raised in the meeting,” said the first person.

“Different founders had different grievances. The big picture was how they (Google’s actions) have been affecting the growth of Indian companies and abusing the market,” the person said.

“Startups from the National Capital Region went to the CCI physically. Startups from Mumbai and Bengaluru joined the meeting on a video call,” the second person said. “We acknowledge all the good Google has done for the world, but it should not be allowed to be unfair … The CCI was already very much aware and informed of the issue … It was a good meeting.”

The CCI has the powers to initiate an investigation suo moto without a formal complaint, antitrust lawyer Abir Roy said.

“However, in commercial issues, there are few cases where the CCI has taken suo moto cognisance. It is to be noted that the CCI can also take cognisance based on complaints made by persons who may be directly affected too since the requirement of locus isn’t there. As such, it is not surprising that startups’ hope that the CCI will intervene on their own,” he said.

The recent developments, kicked off by the US-based tech behemoth’s
temporary delisting of the country’s largest fintech app, Paytm, from Play Store on September 18 and then
announcing a 30% commission on in-app purchases of digital goods, has led to an outcry in the ecosystem.

Many startup founders, most notably Paytm’s Sharma, have been alleging that Google’s bundling of services on its Android operating system and then monetising its scale was a “monopoly risk.” In a recent interview with ET, Sharma
accused Google of acting as “over and above the government”.

No American or foreign company should control the destiny of Indian startups: Vijay Shekhar Sharma

Meanwhile, Google has maintained that its enforcement of policies in India was in line with global standards for secure customer practices. The tech giant’s vice president for product management, Sameer Samat, told ET earlier this month that the company would defer the enforcement of its new commission-based billing policy in India till at least April 2022 to make sure startups weren’t “unduly stressed.”

Google added that it had set up “listening sessions” with leading Indian startups to understand their concerns more deeply. Google also claims that its new billing policy would impact only 3% of the apps on Play Store.

The development also comes at a time when the ‘Big Tech’ companies — Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon — are facing probes around the world with the growing dominance of them on the Internet is worrying governments and regulators.

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