NC’s Stein helping lead coalition of attorneys general suing Google for antitrust violations

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, along with a bipartisan group of 37 other attorneys general, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Google over antitrust violations. 

Stein (D) is among the leaders of the lawsuit, which alleges that Google harmed customers by “exploiting its monopoly position as the developer of Android.” 

According to Stein’s office, the allegations include: 

  • Google broke its promise to app developers and device manufacturers that it would keep its Android operating system open source, which allows developers to create compatible apps and distribute them without unnecessary restrictions. Google hasn’t allowed Android to be open source for many years. 
  • Google imposes technical barriers that discourage or effectively prevent third-party app developers from distributing apps outside the Google Play Store. 
  • Google forces its proprietary apps to be pre-loaded on “essentially all devices” that are designed to run on Android, cutting off potential competition. 
  • Google forces app developers and users alike to use its payment processing service, Google Play Billing, to process payments for in-app purchases. “By requiring this, Google is able to extract an exorbitant processing fee as high as 30 percent for each transaction, which is more than 10 times as high as the fee charged by Google’s competitors,” a news release said. 

Stein was also part of a December 2020 antitrust lawsuit against Google over its search monopoly. He also joined a coalition of attorneys general in taking antitrust action against Facebook

“Ninety percent of all downloads on an Android phone are on the Google Play store. And, then they tie their payment processing system to it, making you use their payment processing, charging up to 30 percent when most credit cards charge 3 percent,” Stein said. “You the customer are paying way too much.” 

In a blog post, Google pushed back on the lawsuit, calling it “meritless.”  

Wilson White, senior director of public policy for Google, points out more than half of Android devices have more than one app store pre-installed. 

He writes, “So it’s strange that a group of state attorneys general chose to file a lawsuit attacking a system that provides more openness and choice than others. This complaint mimics a similarly meritless lawsuit filed by the large app developer Epic Games, which has benefitted from Android’s openness by distributing its Fortnite app outside of Google Play.” 

White testified earlier this year before a Congressional committee investigating the competitiveness of app stores. 

At the time, he said, “Device makers and carriers are free to use Android without Google Play or without Google’s other services. And, many of them actually choose to pre-load Google’s apps alongside their competing apps.”  

Stein said even with the other avenues to try to download apps, it’s still difficult for users. 

“The other options are just pretext, and we know this because more than 90 percent of all downloads happen on the Google Play store,” he said. “They make it incredibly difficult for somebody, it’s called sideloading, to get an app in some manner other than the Google Play store.” 

In addition to seeking penalties that could be paid to the states that are part of the lawsuit, Stein said customers could potentially be refunded as well.   

He said he’s also monitoring a lawsuit Epic Games, which developed the popular game Fortnite and is based in Cary, filed against Apple regarding its app store. Epic also has sued Google. 

“We’re studying the Apple lawsuit with Epic very carefully,” Stein said. “I want all businesses that operate in North Carolina to treat the customers fairly and lawfully.” 

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