Spotify is the first to launch non-Google Android billing in the US

The Monopoly board game logo, featuring Uncle Pennybags, has been transformed to say Google.
Enlarge / Let’s see, you’ve landed on my “Google Ads” space, and with three houses… that’ll be $1,400.

Ron Amadeo / Hasbro

Google is slowly loosening its grip on billing on Google Play. In March, the company announced a “User Choice Billing” pilot plan, which would give users the ability to buy things on Google Play through a third-party payment processor. In some countries, the pilot launched in September, with Google accepting registrations from developers in the European Economic Area, Australia, India, Indonesia and Japan. Today, the feature is finally coming to the US, with Google announcing expansion to the US, Brazil and South Africa.

As announced in March, Google’s first partner for this project is one of its biggest customers, Spotify, which has its own blog post announcing that the feature is rolling out this week. The Play Store has always required developers to use Google Play Billing exclusively for app payments, but big companies like Spotify and Netflix ignored those rules for years, apparently deciding they were too big to ban. For years they were right, but Google announced that it would really start enforcing its rules, even for large companies, in 2022. When the March deadline arrived, however, there also came the announcement of User Choice Billing, with Spotify as the first partner, so it’s not clear that Google ever succeeded in getting Spotify to follow the rules.

Spotify first gives you options to

Spotify first gives you options for “Spotify” or “Google Play”, and tapping the “Spotify” button lets you enter a credit card or use PayPal.

Spotify has an image of what its officially sanctioned User Choice Billing will look like, with payment buttons for “Google Play” and “Spotify” right next to each other on Spotify’s payment page. the subscription. Tap the “Spotify” button to see options to enter a credit card directly or use PayPal. Spotify says it’s “the first to pilot” user-choice billing with this launch, and Google says dating app Bumble is the second app to be approved for alternative billing.

Google’s blog post ridiculously introduces multiple payment options as some kind of world first and a great experiment that has never been done before. Google says it wants to “understand the complexities involved” in having a second payment option and needs to “test and iterate on different implementations” of credit card processing. Every other payment screen on the internet has had a PayPal button for about 20 years, so maybe some of that experience could help Google navigate this murky, uncharted territory. Google says Spotify’s “initial test implementation” of a PayPal button “will likely evolve over time as they continue to iterate and learn.”

Google's infographic on "Billing at the user's choice" countries.
Enlarge / Google User Choice Billing country infographic.

Changing goals for app store alternative billing mean it’s unclear if anything is actually being accomplished here. The original motivation for alternative payments was to dodge Google’s (and Apple’s) App Store fees, which account for 15-30% of a developer’s revenue. While Google and Apple are legally obligated to open up their payment processing in some countries, the mobile duopoly ignored the spirit of those rulings and didn’t really budge on the fees it charges. For third-party payment systems, the two app store owners only reduced their commissions by 3-4%, which is the cost of processing a credit card. The original goal of “saving the devs money” hasn’t been achieved, they only have the option to spend that 3% elsewhere.

With today’s launch in the US, Brazil and South Africa, Google says User Choice Billing is now available in 35 countries. However, you’ll need an app that’s actually approved for the program, and Spotify says it’s launching the feature in “select markets.”

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