As Third-Party App Developer, Match Group Says it is Google’s ‘Hostage’ in Antitrust Complaint

A lawsuit filed by dating app operator Match Group LLC and three of its subsidiaries earlier this week has accused Google of monopolizing the market for distributing apps on Android devices. The complaint details Google’s alleged rise to total dominance and how it squeezed third-party app developers like Match, operator of the world’s most popular dating app, Tinder.

“This is a case about the strategic manipulation of markets, broken promises, and abuse of power that Google LLC has employed to illegally foreclose competition in the world’s biggest mobile device ecosystem, Android, and become one of the largest, most powerful companies in the world,” the San Jose, Calif. complaint opens. It explains that Google has gone back on its word to app developers, starting with its guarantee that the Android OS would remain an open, flexible ecosystem with focus on the user. 

Then, in September 2020, the defendant reportedly announced that it would require all apps providing “digital goods and services” to use Google Play Billing exclusively beginning in September 2021. Match, which had used its own payment processing system, was then forced to submit to the 15-30% tax imposed by Google’s proprietary payment processor.

Reportedly, Google punted the deadline to Mar. 31, 2022 in view of push back from app developers and regulators, including those pushing for legislative reform. For Match’s part, Google allegedly offered it and others millions in credits and rebates to give up its own payment processor and end the Google Play Billing protest. However, Google reportedly retracted its offer to Match on the eve of a company officer’s planned testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights.

Match alleges that Google’s attempt to take over in-app payment processing came with the threat of either not selling its apps through Android or fighting Google at the risk of removal from the Google Play Store, which the filing notes was carried out against dissenter Epic Games Inc. In 2022, the operating system used by nearly 70% of all smart mobile devices globally, making avoiding the platform a non-option, the plaintiffs said.

The civil suit, one of many antitrust cases proceeding against the company, including from the Department of Justice, state attorneys general, other app developers, and Epic Games, also makes mention of Google’s seemingly arbitrary practice of applying the exclusivity policy to vendors of “digital goods and services,” including Match, but excluding food delivery and ride sharing apps. Additionally, it explains how Google has pressured original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to accept contractual limitations mandating that they give Google Play “insurmountable advantages over competing app stores.”

The 91-page complaint states 13 causes of action, including violation of the Sherman Act, violation of California’s Cartwright Act, and tortious interference with contract. It seeks injunctive relief enjoining Google from preventing Match from offering its own payment system, barring Match from the Google Play Store, offering customers payment processor choices, and retaliating against Match in the app review process.

Match Group is represented by Hueston Hennigan LLP.