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Google Blocks KakaoTalk Play Store Updates For Billing Policy Violation

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Google has blocked Play Store updates to the popular messaging app KakaoTalk in South Korea for refusing to comply with its billing policy. The app will remain functional but the developers won’t be able to push updates to it through Play Store. It is the first victim of Google’s enforced Play policy in South Korea, local publication News1 reports (via).

The Play policy in question here is the one that requires developers to use Google’s first-party billing system for in-app purchases in apps distributed through Play Store. This policy has drawn widespread criticism and legal complaints. But the company enforced it starting June 1, 2022, in most parts of the world. The deadline for developers in India is October 31, 2022.

Google said any app found to be violating this policy will be removed from Play Store. However, developers with users in South Korea have the option to integrate an alternative in-app billing system thanks to the country’s newly-passed in-app payment law. The alternate system will incur lesser service charges than Google’s first-party billing system. But KakaoTalk still ended up on the wrong side due to it directly providing a link to an external payment website within the app. Google doesn’t allow that.

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KakoTalk added an external payment link to its Android app

KakaoTalk added the link in late May after Google enforced the new Play policy. The link takes users to an external website through which they can sign up for the messaging app‘s Emoticon Plus subscription service at just KRW 3,900 (~$2.9) per month. The same subscription purchased within the app costs KRW 5,700. It initially cost KRW 4,900 but Google enforcing the new Play policy forced KakaoTalk to increase the rate. That’s because the Android maker takes a commission for in-app purchases made through its billing system.

Of course, Google didn’t like KakaoTalk offering cheaper subscriptions outside of the app. As such, it has now blocked updates for the app via the Play Store. The messaging app can still push updates through third-party app stores, though. The company is also letting Android users download the APK files for the latest updates and sideload them on their devices.

KakaoTalk isn’t the only Android app affected by Google’s enforced Play policy. Hulu recently removed sign-ups from its Android apps due to the same reason. New users will have to sign-up from its website before they can use the app. But unlike KakaoTalk, Hulu didn’t include the link to the external sign-up page within the app. So Google didn’t take any action against it.

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Interestingly, the Korean Communications Commission (KCC) has said that Google blocking apps from providing links to external billing websites is a breach of the country’s app payment law. So this action against KakaoTalk may attract legal hurdles for the company. We will keep you posted on it.