Google to ease Android licensing terms, permit third-party billing in India in major business revamp • TechCrunch

Google is revising its business agreements with phonemakers and other partners in India and making a series of other changes in the South Asian market to comply with the local antitrust watchdog’s directions in a major shift that could invite regulators in other regions to make similar suggestions.

The Android-maker, which was slapped with a $161 million fine by the Competition Commission of India last year and was ordered to make a series of changes in its business practices, said Wednesday that it will allow smartphone vendors in India to license individual apps for pre-installation on their Android-powered devices.

Google will also give consumers the ability to change search engine and use third-party billing options for apps and games purchases on Play Store starting next month, it said.

The Competition Commission of India had ordered Google to not force smartphone makers to bundle so many Google apps on their handsets by default. It had also asked the firm to give users the ability to remove Google apps, use third-party billing options on Play Store, and change their search engine, if they so desire.

Google said it will continue to appeal the Competition Commission of India’s directions. But it’s going ahead with the changes to comply with the land of the law. The changes are limited to company’s business practices in India.

The move follows Google warning that complying with the CCI’s directions would result in devices getting expensive in the world’s second largest smartphone market and lead to proliferation of unchecked apps that will pose threats for individual and national security.

India is a major market for Google, where it has amassed over half a billion users. Over 97% of all smartphones in India are powered by Google’s Android mobile operating system, according to research firm Counterpoint. Google has poured billions in the country over the past decade and is in the process of investing another $10 billion.

Following is the full-set of key changes Google is undertaking in India:

  • OEMs will be able to license individual Google apps for pre-installation on their devices.

  • Android users have always been able to customize their devices to suit their preferences. Indian users will now have the option to choose their default search engine via a choice screen that will soon start to appear when a user sets up a new Android smartphone or tablet in India.

  • We’re updating the Android compatibility requirements to introduce changes for partners to build non-compatible or forked variants.

  • User choice billing will be available to all apps and games starting next month. Through user choice billing, developers can offer users the option to choose an alternative billing system alongside Google Play’s billing system when purchasing in-app digital content.

  • Android has always supported the installation of apps from a variety of sources, including via sideloading, which involves app downloads directly from a developer’s website. We recently made changes to the Android installation flow and auto-updating capability for sideloaded apps and app stores while ensuring users understand the potential security risks.

In a setback earlier this month, India’s Supreme Court rejected Google’s plea to block the CCI order. Google had a deadline until Thursday to comply with the antitrust regulator’s order.

“Implementation of these changes across the ecosystem will be a complex process and will require significant work at our end and, in many cases, significant efforts from partners, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and developers,” Google said on Wednesday. “Our commitment to Indian users and the country’s digital transformation stands undeterred.”

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