The parent company of dating apps Tinder, Match and OkCupid is suing Google, alleging that the company exerts too much control over payments through its Google Play app marketplace.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in California's Northern District, accuses the company of deploying "anticompetitive tactics" to maintain a monopoly on the Android mobile ecosystem:
Ten years ago, Match Group was Google’s partner. We are now its hostage. Google lured app developers to its platform with assurances that we could offer users a choice over how to pay for the services they want.
But once it monopolized the market for Android app distribution with Google Play by riding the coattails of the most popular app developers, Google sought to ban alternative in-app payment processing services so it could take a cut of nearly every in-app transaction on Android.
Match's lawsuit is the latest instance of app developers demanding relief from Google and Apple over the 30 percent standard cut — now, sometimes 15% — that those tech giants extract from in-app payments. Longstanding tensions around the issue boiled over in 2020 when Epic Games sued Apple for antitrust violations, a case that didn't result in a clear-cut victor but did force Apple to allow developers to point their users to alternative payment options.
Facing pressure over its restrictive payment choices, Google recently launched a pilot program that would allow apps to offer an alternative payment option along with Google Play's own system within apps. Spotify was the only company named as a participant in the pilot program, and Match claims that the company has rebuffed its own efforts to sign up.
At the same time, Google announced plans to crack down on apps that circumvent its billing systems, setting a deadline of June 1. In light of the deadline, Match Group CEO Shar Dubey called the lawsuit a "measure of last resort" for the dating app company.
"They control app distribution on Android devices, and pretend that developers could successfully reach consumers on Android elsewhere," Dubey said. "It's like saying ‘you don’t have to take the elevator to get to the 60th floor of a building, you can always scale the outside wall.’ It’s not legitimate."
In a statement to TechCrunch, Google dismissed the new Match lawsuit as a "self-interested campaign" to avoid paying its fair share. "... Even if they don’t want to comply with Google Play’s policies, Android's openness still provides them multiple ways of distributing their apps to Android users, including through other Android app stores, directly to users via their website or as consumption-only apps," a Google spokesperson said.
Match Group is a member of the Coalition for App Fairness, a developer advocacy group that calls attention to the ways that Apple and Google's dominance over the mobile software market negatively affects app developers. Epic Games, Spotify and Tile are others prominent members of the group, which was formed in 2020 around the time that Epic escalated its own complaints.
Developers tired of paying such a hefty cut of their in-app earnings to Apple and Google are stepping up the pressure on those companies, but governments around the world are increasingly taking an interest in the issue too.
In the U.S., the bipartisan Open Markets Act would crack open both the iOS and Android app store, upending Apple and Google's shared stranglehold on the mobile software world in the process. That bill moved out of a Senate committee earlier this year and appears poised to continue the slow crawl toward becoming law.
Last week, a competition complaint in the Netherlands against Google's Play Store from Match Group prompted a preliminary investigation into the company's potential anticompetitive practices. That country's Authority for Consumers and Markets is also sparring with Apple over its own app payment processes, and the regulatory group has ordered the company to allow dating apps to offer alternative payment options.