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A jury decided Google's Android app store benefits from anticompetitive barriers

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal court jury has decided that Google's Android app store has been protected by anticompetitive barriers that have damaged smartphone consumers and software developers, dealing a blow to a major pillar of a technology empire.

The unanimous verdict reached Monday came after just three hours of deliberation following a four-week trial revolving around a lucrative payment system within Google's Play store. The store is the main place where hundreds of millions of people around the world download and install apps that work on smartphones powered by Google's Android software.

Epic Games, the maker of the popular Fortnite video game, filed a lawsuit against Google three years ago, alleging that the internet powerhouse has been abusing its power to shield its Play Store from competition in order to protect a gold mine that makes billions of dollars annually. Just as Apple does for its iPhone app store, Google collects a commission ranging from 15% to 30% on digital transactions completed within apps.

Apple prevailed in a similar case that Epic brought against the iPhone app store, but the 2021 trial was decided by a federal judge in a ruling that is under appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the nine-person jury in the Play store case apparently saw things through a different lens, even though Google technically allows Android apps to be downloaded from different stores — an option that Apple prohibits on the iPhone.

Just before the Play store trial started, Google sought to avoid having a jury determine the outcome, only to have its request rejected by U.S. District Judge James Donato. Now it will be up to Donato to determine what steps Google will have to take to unwind its illegal behavior in the Play Store. The judge indicated he will hold hearings on the issue during the second week of January.

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney broke into a wide grin after the verdict was read and slapped his lawyers on the back and also shook the hand of a Google attorney, who he thanked for his professional attitude during the proceedings.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the trial's outcome.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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