Google has responded to dating app maker Match Group's antitrust lawsuit in a scathing new court filing which refers to Match's original complaint as a "cynical attempt" to take advantage of Google Play's distribution platform and other tools while attempting to sidestep Google's fees.
The two tech giants have been battling it out in court after Match sued Google this May over its alleged monopoly power in Android app payments.
Match -- which operates dating apps including Tinder, Match, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, Hinge and others -- is claiming Google has too much control over the Google Play app marketplace and uses anticompetitive tactics to maintain its hold on that ecosystem. The app maker is one of many larger publishers, alongside Epic Games and Spotify, that have been looking for relief from Google's service fees. Epic Games is also suing both Apple and Google. The companies largely want to offer their own in-app payment systems instead of being forced to use Google's own payments infrastructure and want to avoid the commissions that come with having their apps distributed through the Google Play store and App Store.
Earlier this year, Google and Match came to a temporary compromise about how they would proceed while the lawsuit was underway. Match said Google assured it would not ban or block its dating apps from Google Play for offering alternative payments and Match would place up to $40 million in an escrow account in lieu of paying Google's fees until the judge determined the outcome of the case.
Now, Google has filed its counterclaim in this ongoing lawsuit, where it argues that Match is misleading the court in saying Google simply provides payment processing fees to the apps distributed on its platform.
While Match Group claims that Google Play only provides payment processing, that simply isn’t true. Google Play provides tools and a global distribution platform that has allowed Match Group to thrive and build a successful network of users that is critical for its dating apps. Match Group now seeks to access Google Play’s global distribution platform and users and leverage Google’s substantial investments in the platform, all for free.
Google goes on to tout the discoverability made possible through the Play Store and the tools it provides to developers, including the free software provided that allows developers to build apps, its testing and monitoring tools, and its digital payments infrastructure. Plus, Google argues that its 15% fee for Match Group subscriptions is "half the amount" other major platforms charge -- a reference seemingly to Apple. However, both platforms had reduced commissions from 30% to 15% in an app's second year, up until Jan. 1, 2022 when Google then dropped subscriptions for all developers to 15% from day one, regardless of how long they've been on Google Play.
The response additionally points out that there are other ways to load apps onto Android phones, unlike on iOS which restricts sideloading.
Google also deals out a few key blows -- for example, by noting that a senior VP at Match Group had once admitted that Match's real problem with Google Play's billing system is "the ease with which users can cancel their subscriptions" using Google's tools.
This particular claim recalls an earlier lawsuit against Match filed by government regulators. In 2019, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Match for fraud. Among other things, it said the company made it difficult for consumers to cancel their subscriptions and would use tricks that led consumers to think they had stopped the charges when they actually had not. Most of the claims in that suit were dismissed earlier this year, however, based on the case's legal standing as opposed to a judgment related to the complaints themselves. (In response to Google's statement here, Match told us Google is "deliberately misrepresenting reality for their own narrative.")
Google also references the FTC's lawsuit in its new filing, adding that Match executives had acknowledged the cancellation process is "hard to find, tedious, and confusing." A Match Group exec's quote, unfortunately, is redacted in the filing.
Google is asking for a trial by jury and monetary relief related to Match Group's breach of contract. It also seeks a ruling that would permanently ban Match Group from the Google Play store.
The lawsuit is proceeding in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. News of the filing was first reported by Bloomberg.
In a statement, Google said, "Match Group entered into a contract with us and this suit seeks to hold Match to its end of the agreement – we’re looking forward to making our case. Meanwhile, we will continue to defend ourselves against Match’s baseless claims."
Reached for comment, Match said, "This countersuit is a prime example of a monopoly using its power to frighten other developers into submission. Google doesn't want anyone else to sue them so their counterclaims are designed as a warning shot. But, the primary issue is that Google’s Play Store policies are anti-competitive and in violation of federal and state law. We are confident that our suit, alongside other developers, the US Department of Justice, and 37 State Attorneys General making similar claims, will be resolved in our favor early next year."
Updated 7/12/22, 11:39 am et, with Match's comment; 7/12/22, 2:51 pm et with clarification on Google's policy -- as of Jan 1, 2022, it is now 15% for subscription apps from day one.