Match Group Google Play Store complaint triggers Dutch antitrust probe

A competition complaint against Google’s Android Play Store by Match Group, the company which owns Tinder and a number of other dating apps, has led to a preliminary investigation by the Netherlands’ Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) into whether the tech giant is abusing a dominant position, the regulator said today.

Match Group declined to comment on the substance of its complaint — but the ACM confirmed it has received “a request for enforcement regarding the Google Play Store.”

“Dating-app providers allegedly are no longer able to use a payment system other than Google’s payment system. In addition, dating apps claim they are no longer allowed to refer to other payment methods either,” the ACM also said in a short press statement.

“Dating-app provider [Match Group] has asked ACM to assess whether Google abuses its dominant position with these practices. ACM will therefore conduct a preliminary investigation in response to this request.”

The regulator declined to answer questions about the complaint.

In its own statement, a Google spokesperson told us:

Like any business, Google charges for services but Match Group’s apps are eligible to pay just 15% on Google Play for digital subscriptions, which is the lowest rate among major app platforms. But even if they don’t want to comply with Google Play’s policies, Android still provides them multiple ways of distributing their apps to Android users, including through other Android app stores, directly to users via their website or as consumption-only apps.

The ACM has been locked in a lengthy battle with iOS maker Apple over its app store payment rules as applied to local dating apps — which led it to order that Apple must allow dating apps to use alternative payment processing services and issue a series of fines as the regulator judged Apple had failed to comply with the order.

The fines hit the maximum allowed for by an associated court order by the end of March — €50 million — when the ACM said it was considering a revised offer by Apple. However, according to Reuters, the regulator has decided Apple’s offer still does not comply with its order and it reports being told on Monday that the ACM is preparing a new order with new penalty payments.

The enforcement tug of war between the ACM and Apple attracted high level attention from the European Commission, with EVP Margrethe Vestager hitting out at Apple for deliberating choosing to pay a fine rather than comply in remarks back in February.

That’s notable because the Commission itself will in charge of enforcing a new ex ante competition regime against the most powerful tech giants which is due to come into force across the EU later this year.

The bloc’s lawmakers agreed the final details of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in March — cementing a regime that will enforce a set of operational rules on so-called “internet gatekeepers” which look set to shrink Apple’s and Google’s ability to micromanage how business users must operate on their app stores.

Under the incoming pan-EU regulation, fines can scale up to 10% of global annual turnover for gatekeeper non-compliance with the regulation’s up-front obligations. That means DMA enforcements are both likely to flow faster and be harder for Big Tech to ignore than traditional ‘ex post’ competition interventions.