Hausfeld launches £920m UK class action competition claim against Google over Play Store charges

Tech giant accused of 'locking' consumers into using its own app store system in claim backed by Vannin Capital
August 19, 2018 Mountain View / CA / USA - Google logo on one of the buildings situated in Googleplex, the company's main campus in Silicon Valley

By Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Google is facing a £920m class action lawsuit after being accused of overcharging nearly 20 million UK customers for Google Play Store purchases. 

The claim, filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) in London today, is being brought by specialist litigation practice Hausfeld on behalf of Liz Coll, a ‘consumer champion’ and former digital head at consumer rights organisation Consumers International. Barristers Mark Hoskins QC and Aaron Khan of Brick Court Chambers and Ronit Kreisberger QC and Michael Armitage of Monckton Chambers make up the case’s legal team, with funding for the claim provided by global litigation funder Vannin Capital. 

The case follows a £1.5bn opt out collective claim launched by Hausfeld in May against Apple for allegedly overcharging its UK customers for App Store purchases. 

Hausfeld is representing an estimated class of 19.5 million UK users of smartphones and tablets running on Google’s Android operating system. It accuses the tech giant of unfairly restricting consumer access to other app distributors by pre-installing Google’s proprietary apps including the Google Play Store and charging a 30% commission charge on every digital purchase. 

Google said it competed “vigorously and fairly” for developers and consumers and its fees were “comparable to our competitors”. It added: “This lawsuit ignores the benefits and choice Android and Google Play provide as well as the competitive market in which we operate.” 

Lesley Hannah, who is leading the Hausfeld team in the litigation, said: “In Britain and elsewhere, Google dominates the Android smartphone market and uses that dominance to restrict competition and charge excessive and unfair app store fees that are out of all proportion to the cost of providing those services. Thankfully, we have robust competition laws to protect consumers, and a collective proceedings regime to vindicate their rights, and we are looking forward to working with Liz Coll in holding Google to account for its unlawful conduct.”

Despite being a fixture of US courts for many years, class actions have yet to become part of UK litigation culture in the same way. Consumer collective action suits were formally introduced in the UK in 2015. 

Last December, the UK Supreme Court certified a class action against Mastercard, allowing a £14bn case centred on the alleged over-charging of credit card fees to proceed. Hausfeld partner Antony Maton, who was an intervener on behalf of Which?, said the case gave the “green light for collective actions to be brought on a straightforward and easily understood basis”.

Google and Apple are facing a mountain of regulatory pressure over concerns about anti-competitive and monopolistic practices by big tech companies. Google is currently facing three federal antitrust lawsuits in the US, including an ongoing Justice Department case accusing the company of monopolistic practices in search advertising.

In the UK, meanwhile, the UK’s Competition and Market Authority launched a market study last month 'to take a closer look at whether the firms’ effective duopoly over the supply of operating systems (iOS and Android), app stores (App Store and Play Store), and web browsers (Safari and Chrome), could be resulting in consumers losing out across a wide range of areas'.

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