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Google Play to test third-party billing in new markets, including the US; Bumble joins Spotify as early tester • londonbusinessblog.com

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Google today announced it’s expanding its user-choice billing pilot, allowing Android app developers to use payment systems other than Google’s. The program will now be available in new markets, including the US, Brazil and South Africa, and Bumble will now join Spotify as one of the pilot testers. Google has also announced Spotify is now rolling out the implementation of the program starting this week.

The company had first announced in March this year that it planned to launch a third-party billing option, with Spotify as its first tester.

Since then, the program has steadily expanded. Last month, for example, Google invited other non-game developers to sign up for its user choice billing program in select markets, including India, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, and the European Economic Area (EEA). The company also introduced a similar policy for developers in the EEA region in July, but the new guidelines increased the commission discount from 3% to 4% for developers who have signed up. With today’s expansion, user choice billing is made available to 35 countries around the world.

Google says it’s worked with Spotify to help develop the experience, and now the streaming music service will begin implementing the new features in supported markets. The experience may change over time, Google warned, as these are still the early days of the pilot test.

In addition, Bumble has now joined Google to test user-selected billing in its own app, with plans to roll out the options to users in select countries in the coming months.

Developers interested in introducing user choice billing should follow certain UX guidelines set by Google who detail how to implement the feature in their apps. These guidelines currently require developers to display an information screen and a separate billing selection screen. The information screen only needs to be shown to each user the first time they make a purchase, but the rules say the billing selection screen must be shown before every purchase. There are other requirements regarding when and how the screens should be displayed and what the user interface should look like.

With the launch, Spotify users on Android will see a new user interface that allows them to choose how they want to pay for their Spotify subscription (see image below). For the first time, the two options – Google Play billing and Spotify billing – appear side by side. If the user selects Google Play billing, they will be transitioned to the usual experience and will be able to track their subscription in the Google Play Store subscription center. If the user selects Spotify billing, they will proceed with Spotify’s own checkout process and user experience.

This test will initially be available in a few markets and expand to others in the coming weeks, Spotify says.

Image Credits: Spotify

“Spotify has been publicly advocating platform equality and expanded payment options for years. We believe that fair and open platforms enable better, frictionless consumer experiences that also empower developers to imagine, innovate and thrive,” according to a Spotify blog post.

Although the terms and conditions are a 4% discount in commissions paid to Google when user-choice billing is used, Spotify declined to comment on its confidential deal with Google, but notes that it meets the company’s standards of fairness. It is unclear whether the streamer has received more favorable terms as an early adopter.

These changes follow a period when the major app stores of Apple and Google came under pressure from lawmakers and regulators in global markets to open up their app ecosystems. This includes pressure to give developers the ability to use third-party payment systems and to allow developers to inform customers about other ways to pay, among other things.

In addition, some developers have directly sued the app giants. For example, in the US, Fortnite maker Epic Games has sued both Apple and Google for their alleged monopolistic practices over their restrictions around in-app payments and for the right to distribute apps and games directly to end users outside of official app stores. Dating app giant Match is also suing Google. (That makes Google’s choice to invite Bumble into the program all the more interesting!)

Other companies are also lobbying lawmakers for greater app store openness, through organizations such as the App Fairness Coalitionincluding big name developers like Epic Games, Spotify, Tile and others, including indie developers.

Google and Apple are also under investigation in several markets, with the Justice Department in the early stages of filing an antitrust case against Apple and EU antitrust officials to research the Play Store.

In a blog post, Google says the goal of its pilot is to “understand the complexities of supporting user choice billing for developers and users in countries around the world, while maintaining a safe and positive user experience.” The company has yet to say when it expects the pilot test to be completed.

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