Google apparently readying an Apple-style clampdown over Android app fees

Google is reportedly planning to crack down on Android apps bypassing its in-app purchase rules, holding developers to an existing – but little-enforced – requirement. The decision follows a controversial legal spat between Apple and Fortnite-developer Epic Games, in which the publisher criticized the so-called "App Store tax" of 30-percent on purchases made within software.

Epic released a version of Fortnite which effectively bypassed that, giving players the opportunity to pay without using Apple's systems. In response, Apple yanked the game from the App Store, and subsequently deactivated Epic's account altogether.

Google followed suit, pulling Fortnite from the Google Play store. A fierce legal battle has ensued, with Epic suing both Google and Apple over what it argues are restrictive practices that hold developers to ransom. Apple and Google, meanwhile, point out that they are responsible for the huge audience Epic and other developers have, and that iOS and Android have proved to be significant avenues of income for titles like Fortnite.

Now, Google is apparently preparing to escalate its stance on in-app purchases. New guidelines could drop as soon as next week, sources tell Bloomberg, locking down attempts to circumnavigate rules that would have Google take a 30-percent cut of any purchases or subscriptions made within apps released through the Play store.

That rule isn't new, it's worth noting. Like Apple, Google has long expected app-makers to hand over a cut of their proceeds, not just for paid apps but purchases made within existing downloads. What's different is how strict each platform is on enforcing those rules. Multiple developers – of which Epic Games is one, but Netflix, Spotify, and others are also on the list – have been operating purchase systems that cut around a Play store purchase and guide users to pay them directly instead.

Google is yet to comment on the talk of new enforcement. However, a spokesperson highlighted the existing rules.

"For developers who choose to distribute their apps on Google Play, our policy has always required them to use Play's billing system if they offer in-app purchases of digital goods," the representative said. "We are always working with our partners to clarify these policies and ensure they are applied equitably and reasonably."

According to the sources, Google will be pushing developers flouting the rule to switch to the Play payment system. Apps not in compliance will not be immediately removed, it's suggested.

Earlier this week, a new coalition of companies that release apps for iOS and Android – including Epic Games and Spotify – formed to apply pressure on Apple. The concerns raised aren't solely about in-app purchase policies, however, also highlighting arbitrary rule changes and behaviors seen as unfairly benefiting Apple's own software.