Gizmodo: Is Google’s $90 Million Settlement a Win for App Developers, or for Google?

July 2, 2022 Media

Small app developers pried $90 million from Google in a legal settlement announced Friday, hot on the heels of a similar agreement with Apple.

In a blog post Friday, Google said it had agreed to pay $90 million to settle a lawsuit with app developers who claim the Android maker abused its market dominance to unfairly charge them a 30% fee for in-app purchases made via the Play Store. Though the major settlement marks a short-term win for developers, critics told Gizmodo that Google’s concessions seem like just another attempt to forestall proposed antitrust legislation that threatens Google’s mobile app business on a fundamental level.

“There’s clearly a pattern here where they [Google] are trying to make it seem like they are addressing critics’ concerns without changing their fundamental problem,” American Economic Liberties Project (AELP) policy director Pat Garofalo told Gizmodo in a phone interview.

Though the settlement could lead to immediate positive outcomes for the affected developers—more cash—corporate accountability groups like the AELP warn it could also serve as defensive move for Google to stave off impending state and federal competition law, which, if passed, would likely lead to revenues loses that would far eclipse the $90 million settlement.

“This is another move by Google in a series of moves to try and head off legislation like the Open Markets App,” AELP’s Garofalo said. “Google has been responding to that [proposed legislation] by trying to placate critics.” Garofalo said Google’s recent changes and lobbying efforts, both in state houses and the federal levels, proves it feels “seriously threatened by antitrust action.”

Garofalo acknowledged Friday’s settlement, if approved, would benefit developers, but said it completely punts on the issue of anti-competitive, allegedly monopolistic behavior in app marketplaces.

“This doesn’t change the fundamental fact that there are these two players in this space over app distribution and they have soiled monopolies next to each other,” Garofalo said. “This does not take the place of robust government action to break up their monopoly over app distribution.”