Fortnite creator Epic Games launches Australian legal action against Google

Epic’s court battle with Google over being banned from the Play Store, mirrors one it has launched against Apple over its App Store removal

Epic Games has launched new legal action against Google in Australia over alleged anti-competitive behaviour after Fortnite was kicked off the Google Play store last year.

It is the second such court action Epic has taken in Australia following similar court action against Apple, launched in November last year.

Fortnite was kicked off both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in August last year after Epic bypassed the companies’ in-app payment methods in favour of its own cheaper direct billing that prevented Apple and Google taking a share, typically around 30% of the purchase price.

The company has since launched legal action in the US, the UK and Australia, and has filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in the EU.

In documents filed in the federal court on Wednesday, Epic alleges Google has harmed app developers and consumers in Australia by restricting competition and innovation through preventing choice over app distribution and in-app payments on Android devices.

“Google’s conduct inflates the price for apps and in-app content for millions of Android device users in Australia,” the filing stated.

Unlike Apple’s closed-garden iOS operating system, it is possible to download apps to Android devices outside of the Google Play Store by going to the app developer’s website. This means it is still possible to download Fortnite onto Android devices, but Epic stated in the filing that Google “imposes technical barriers” on direct downloading, including security warnings sent to users who try to do so.

Direct downloads of apps do not allow for developers to push out updates, the filing noted.

Epic Games accused Google of misusing its market power and engaging in exclusive dealing.

Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney said in a statement Google had “given the illusion” of being open by arguing about the existence of alternative app stores and direct downloads on Android, but these alternative methods of app downloads were rarely used.

“The barriers Google places on Android OS are real. In the case of direct downloading, it makes the process so difficult and scary that it deters users from downloading apps from third party-websites even though it is a totally normal way for users to get apps on a desktop,” he said.

“We believe consumers have the right to install apps from sources of their choosing and developers have the right to compete in a fair marketplace.”

Google declined to comment.

In August, an Apple spokesperson said Epic’s actions in seeking to bypass the in-app purchasing system were expressly about violating App Store guidelines designed to protect customers.

“Their reckless behaviour made pawns of customers, and we look forward to making this clear to Australian courts,” she said.

An interlocutory hearing for the Apple case is set down for 23 March and the first Google case management hearing is set for 24 March.

Justice Nye Perram, who is overseeing both cases, earlier this month set aside a notice to produce from Epic to Apple seeking a wide variety of information about the Apple app store, including the number of Australian users, apps available, and earnings both in the store and through in-app purchases.

The US court case is set to go ahead in May.


Josh Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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