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More than 30 states have accused Google of operating as an illegal monopoly by abusing its power over developers and eliminating competition in how people download and pay for apps on their Google devices.
“Google uses anticompetitive barriers and authorizations to protect its monopoly power,” said the attorney general Wrote In the lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday.
The lawsuit was filed by 36 states — including New York, California, Tennessee, North Carolina and Utah — and the District of Columbia.
It’s the latest government attack on the massive power wielded by Google amid a tsunami of legal and regulatory challenges that have been piling up for major tech companies in recent months. Since last year, prosecutors at both the Department of Justice and statewide have filed four more lawsuits against the company over other parts of its business.
App Store commissions — typically 30% — are charged to developers, who typically pass the cost on to consumers who buy apps or make purchases in things like mobile games.
The states’ complaint touches on Google’s use of those fees, alleging that Google’s anticompetitive policies have deprived developers of profits and raised prices for consumers.
The lawsuit states that “to collect and maintain this exorbitant commission, Google has used anticompetitive methods to reduce and discourage competition in the distribution of Android applications.” “Google not only targeted potential competing app stores, but also ensured that app developers themselves had no reasonable choice but to distribute their apps through the Google Play Store.”
One difference between how Apple and Google operate their devices has to do with what’s known as “sideloading,” the ability to download apps to a browser, rather than through the App Store. Arguing security concerns, Apple bans this practice, while Google allows it. Google also allows third-party app stores to be downloaded to its devices, which Apple doesn’t.
However, in the lawsuit, states attorneys point out that the Google Play market share of apps downloaded on Google devices is more than 90%, which, according to the lawsuit, indicates that Google “faces no credible threats.”
Moreover, Google prohibits downloading competing app stores through its own Google Play Store, but competing app stores can be ported to Google devices, a process that state lawyers describe as “unnecessarily cumbersome and impractical.”
The complaint goes on to state that: “Google’s behavior has prevented new entry and/or prevented potential competitors from achieving scope that may limit Google’s power,” according to the lawsuit.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
The Coalition for Applications Justice, an advocacy group that opposes big tech companies that have sole control over how payments are processed, said in a statement that the states’ actions are encouraging.
“App stores have been given a free pass to abuse their dominant market position for far too long,” said Alliance CEO Megan DeMusio. “Their anti-competitive policies stifle innovation, inhibit consumer freedom, inflate costs, and limit transparent communication between developers and their customers.
Epic Games brought Fortnite maker Apple to try this year on how to run its App Store. The federal judge has yet to rule on this case. Epic has also sued Google in a similar case, and is awaiting trial.
Editor’s note: Google is among NPR’s financial backers.