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Staff Photo by John Rawlston / Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III speaks to attendees at the Pachyderm Club meeting at 2 on the Roof on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and 36 other attorneys general have filed an antitrust suit against Google's app store, alleging the global tech giant maintains an illegal monopoly on distributing apps for its Android operating system used by most smartphones.

The suit alleges exclusionary conduct by Google is creating or maintaining a monopoly by disadvantaging and harming competitors through Google Play Store for Android mobile devices and Google Play Billing.

Slatery is among four state attorneys general taking a lead in the lawsuit brought by a bipartisan coalition of 36 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia. Other attorneys general taking a lead are in Utah, New York and North Carolina.

It's one of a number of recent actions alleging Google has used illegal, anticompetitive and unfair business practices to unfairly restrict competition with its Google Play Store that ultimately harms consumers by restricting their choices and driving up app prices.

"Google's 'play' was the long game — enticing manufacturers and operators to adopt Android by promising to remain open," Slatery said in a news release. "Now that digital doorway is closed — if you want in, you've got to do it Google's way. You essentially have to use its app store, use its payment processing system and pay its unreasonable commissions for digital purchases."

Slatery said "all of this harms consumers, limits competition and reduces innovation."

The attorneys general allege Google's exclusionary conduct largely prevents competing ways for consumers to get apps. Slatery's office says Google is also inserting Google Play Billing as an "unwelcome and overpriced middleman between app developers and consumers" for apps installed from the Play Store.

Tying the payment processing system to an app distribution channel "forces consumers to pay Google's commission — up to 30% — on in-app purchases of digital content," Slatery's office says in the news release. "This commission is much higher than what consumers would pay in a competitive market."

The lawsuit alleges Google works to dampen or block competition in violation of federal and state antitrust law.

While Google had promised app developers and device manufacturers that it would maintain Android as "open source," which allows developers to create compatible apps and distribute them without onerous restriction, the lawsuit charges Google didn't keep that promise.

Google, Apple and other tech giants have been increasingly placed on the defensive by lawsuits in the U.S. and other countries.

Pushing back on its blog, Google charged the state attorneys general have filed a "meritless lawsuit that ignores Android's openness" and "completely ignores the competition we face from other platforms such as Apple's incredibly successful app store, which accounts for the majority of mobile app store revenues according to third-party estimates."

The company said the complaint "suggests that Google Play somehow inhibits developers' ability to grow. Even though developers have a range of distribution options on Android, we're proud that, as of February 2020, developers had earned over $80 billion through Google Play.

Applauding the lawsuit, Meghan MiMuzio, executive director for The Coalition for App Fairness, said in a statement the group is "encouraged by the robust bipartisan support for this effort. App stores have been given a free pass to abuse their dominant market position for far too long."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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