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Google starts its crackdown on Android in-app purchases in 2021

Android 12 will make it easier to use third-party stores, however.

Published onSeptember 28, 2020

HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro Google Play Store
  • Google will better enforce rules requiring that apps and games on the Play Store use its in-app purchase system.
  • Android 12 will make it easier to use third-party app stores, however.
  • This comes just as Apple and Google are taking heat for removing Fortnite over in-app rules.

Google has a reputation for looser app policies than Apple, but that might change to some degree with an impending crackdown. The company is warning developers that it will more strictly enforce its in-app purchase policies for the Play Store in 2021, even as it promises better third-party store support in Android 12.

The internet giant has provided added “clarity” on in-app purchases in the Play Store, noting that they have to use Google’s billing system (and thus provide a cut of the revenue) for digital goods like game add-ons. The policy takes effect January 20, 2021, but Google is giving developers until September 30, 2021 to make changes to avoid “unduly disrupt[ing]” plans.

App makers who bristle at the new approach won’t be out of luck, however. Google said it would change Android 12 to make it “even easier” to use third-party app stores without affecting security. The company promised more details at an indefinite point in the future.

Related: The best third-party app stores for Android

The firm said the crackdown would affect less than 3% of Play Store developers, and that it would apply the billing rules to its own apps. As before, it claimed the revenue cut was necessary to let it “continuously reinvest in the platform” and tie its success directly to that of developers.

Still, the new measures could raise objections from app creators and users. They come right as app store operators are facing sharp criticism for policies requiring developers to use official in-app purchase systems for games. Apple is the most conspicuous example, having kicked Fortnite off the App Store with no real alternative, but Google has also caught flak for allegedly quashing deals that would have put Fortnite on phones while bypassing the Play Store and its in-app purchases. Android 12 will partly offset those concerns, but won’t eliminate them.

In practice, a Google Play Store presence is virtually necessary for Android apps to succeed in many of the countries where the storefront is available — Fortnite included. Developers who don’t want to split revenue with Google often have to accept that they’ll see fewer sales. So long as that remains true, Google’s in-app purchase requirements won’t leave creators with many realistic choices.

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