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Indian antitrust watchdog to probe Google over its payment app

In 2018, CCI had slapped a fine of USD 21 million on Google for “search bias” and abusing its “dominant position”.

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US-based tech giant Google is reportedly under investigation in India for misusing its market position to promote its payment app Google Pay.

A Reuters report, citing five sources, said Competition Commission of India (CCI), an antitrust body, is looking into a complaint filed in February that alleges Alphabet Inc-owned company unfairly promotes Google Pay on its Android app store.

The complaint alleges that when a user looks for a payment app on Google Play, it primarily showcases Google Pay, giving the company an unfair advantage over competitors’ apps, the report said. One of the sources told Reuters, that according to the complaint, Google is leveraging its strong position in the Android market as well as online search to promote the app.

CCI has kept the identity of the complainant confidential. The tech giant was made aware of the case a few days ago, and it is expected to respond in due course as the case is currently being reviewed by senior CCI members. The source told Reuters that the case “is at a consideration stage.” Consequently, CCI can either conduct a wider probe into the allegations or dismiss the case if it finds no merit in it.

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Also read: India to probe anti-competition business practices of Amazon and Flipkart

This is not the first time that Google is under CCI’s lens. In 2018, CCI had slapped a fine of USD 21 million on Google  for “search bias” and abusing its “dominant position” in online web search and online search advertising markets. For instance, CCI found Google deliberately directing flight-related queries towards its own specialized flight search page rather than to competing websites, which allowed it to pocket additional commission payments.

Google appealed against the decision which is still pending. Last year, CCI had ordered a deeper investigation after it found Google to have misused its dominant position to “reduced the ability of device manufacturers to opt for alternate versions of its Android mobile operating system.”

Formerly known as Tez, Google Pay was launched in India in 2017 to facilitate inter-bank fund transfers as well as bill payments using UPI (Unified Payments Interface), a government-backed payment tool. It predominantly competes with Alibaba- and SoftBank-backed Paytm, Walmart-owned PhonePe, Amazon Pay, and Indian government-backed app BHIM. WhatsApp is also in the process to break out of the pilot mode for its payment service WhatsApp Pay in the country, where digital payments are expected to become a USD 1 trillion industry by 2023.

In September last year, Google said its payments app had rapidly grown in India to reach 67 million monthly active users and were driving USD 110 billion worth of transactions on an annualized basis.