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India antitrust body to probe Google's in-app billing amid dispute with startups

A logo of Google is seen on its office building in Hyderabad

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU (Reuters) -India's antitrust body on Friday ordered a probe into Alphabet Inc's Google in an ongoing dispute with local startups over its in-app billing system, saying the U.S. company implemented its policies in a "discriminatory manner".

Indian startups have been at odds with Google for months over the fee it charges for in-app payments.

The dispute escalated earlier this month after Google removed more than 100 Indian apps from its app store for violations related to billing, though it restored them after the Indian government intervened.

The startups had asked the Competition Commission of India (CCI) to look into the matter and the watchdog on Friday ordered an investigation, saying: "Google is implementing its policies in a discriminatory manner".

The CCI also directed its investigation unit to complete the probe within 60 days.

"We are examining CCI's order initiating the investigation," a Google spokesperson said in an emailed response to Reuters, adding that the company will cooperate with the process "in every way".

The dispute centres on efforts by some Indian startups to stop Google from imposing a fee of 11% to 26% on in-app payments, after the country's antitrust authorities ordered it to dismantle a system of charging 15% to 30% in 2022.

Google denies wrongdoing and says it charges the fee for supporting investments in Google Play app store and the Android mobile operating system, ensuring it distributes it for free.

The CCI has already spent months looking into startups' complaint that Google is not following the earlier antitrust directive that prevents it from taking adverse measures against companies which use alternate billing systems.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi and Hritam Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by YP Rajesh and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)