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regular-article-logo Sunday, 14 April 2024

App delisting cannot be permitted: Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Google-Indian startups row

The IT and Telecom Minister said the startup ecosystem is key to the Indian economy and their fate cannot be left to any big tech to decide

PTI New Delhi Published 02.03.24, 02:11 PM
Ashwini Vaishnaw

Ashwini Vaishnaw File picture

Taking a strong view of Google pulling out some apps from its Play Store, the government on Saturday said delisting of Indian apps cannot be permitted and that the tech company and the startups concerned have been called for a meeting next week.

In an interview to PTI, IT and Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the startup ecosystem is key to the Indian economy and their fate cannot be left to any big tech to decide.

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The minister's comments assume significance as Google on Friday began removing some apps, including popular matrimony apps, from its Play Store in India over a dispute on service fee payments, even as apps and well-known startup founders cried foul.

Taking a serious view of the issue, Vaishnaw said: "India is very clear, our policy is very clear...our startups will get the protection that they need." The minister said the government will be meeting Google and app developers who have been delisted, next week, to resolve the dispute.

"I have already called Google...I have already called the app developers who have been delisted, we will be meeting them next week. This cannot be permitted..This kind of delisting cannot be permitted," Vaishnaw asserted.

Stating that India has built a strong startup ecosystem of over one lakh startups, and more than 100 unicorns from scratch in a matter of 10 years, the minister said the energy of youth and entrepreneurs must be channelised fully and "cannot be left to the policies of any big tech." "I will be telling Google...Our entrepreneurial energy...startups, look at the whole startup India programme, 10 years back we had practically nothing and today we have more than 1,00,000 startups, more than 100 unicorns...this is something...the energy of our youth, the energy of our entrepreneurs, energy of our talented people that has to be channelised fully well, it cannot be left to the policies of any big tech," Vaishnaw said.

On Friday, Google said 10 companies in the country, including "many well-established" ones had avoided paying fees despite benefiting from the platform and Play Store, and proceeded to delist some apps.

It did not name the firms but a search of Play Store on android phones did not give results for matrimonial apps such as Shaadi, Matrimony.com and Bharat Matrimony. Balaji Telefilms' Altt (formerly ALTBalaji), audio platform Kuku FM, dating service Quack Quack, Truly Madly also disappeared from Play Store.

Separately , Minister of State for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar said he has been flagging the concerns around dominance of Google stifling competition and startups.

The government, he said, has to find if the current issue "trespasses" into the "abuse and misuse" of dominance category.

"I have raised concerns on the dominance of Google in the past, it controls more than 90 per cent of the app ecosystem in India, the fact that they are a vertically integrated large company, we are concerned that their dominance does stifle competitions and startups, and it can be misused against startups, and there are some legitimate concerns that the government has," Chandrasekhar said.

The government and court has to look whether this particular incident trespasses into that territory of abuse and misuse, he added.

The raging dispute is over Google imposing a fee of 11 to 26 per cent on in-app payments after anti-competition body CCI ordered scrapping of an earlier system of charging 15 to 30 per cent.

Google went ahead to remove the apps not paying the fee after the Supreme Court did not provide interim relief to companies behind these apps in their battle against the search giant's app marketplace fee.

While Bharat Matrimony founder Murugavel Janakiraman described the move as "dark day" for the Internet in India, Kuku FM Co-founder Vinod Kumar Meena in a statement had said that Google was behaving like a 'monopoly'.

Quack Quack Founder Ravi Mittal said the company would comply with rules to get back on the marketplace. Google previously sent notices of Play Store violations to Matrimony.com, which runs app BharatMatrimony, and Info Edge, which runs a similar app, Jeevansathi.

Info Edge (India) Ltd on Saturday said its apps, including naukri.com, 99 acres.com, and shiksha.com have been removed from Google Play Store but within hours stated that some of them have been restored.

"Many of the Info Edge apps are back on the play store. An effort very well led by (company MD and CEO) Hitesh and the entire Info Edge team. People were up all night for this. Great crisis management," Info Edge founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani said in a post on X.

On Friday, Bikhchandani had emphasised on the need of an app store/ play store that is a part of Digital Public Infrastructure.

"Indian companies will comply - for now. But what India needs is an App Store/ Play Store that is a part of Digital Public Infrastructure - like UPI and ONDC. The response needs to be strategic," he had said.

Bikhchandani had claimed that Info Edge had cleared all pending Google invoices in a timely manner and was compliant with its policies.

IAMAI - an industry association that represents some of the largest Indian startups as well as international firms - condemned the removal of apps and had urged Google to reinstate delisted apps.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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