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UK Launches Antitrust Investigation of Apple App Store

Posted March 4, 2021 | App Store | Apple | Dev | iOS | iPadOS | Windows


It’s getting harder to keep track of all the regulatory bodies around the globe that are investigating Apple for antitrust violations now. But we can add the UK to the list.

“The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into Apple following complaints that its terms and conditions for app developers are unfair and anti-competitive,” an announcement on the UK Government website reads. “The App Store … is the only way for developers to distribute third-party apps on Apple’s iPhones and iPads, and the only way for Apple customers to access them.”

That last bit should sound familiar by now as it’s the central complaint against Apple these days, that it acts as a gatekeeper for the billion-plus users on iPhones and iPads, and its rules are unfair to both developers and its users.

“All apps available through the App Store have to be approved by Apple, with this approval hinging on developers agreeing to certain terms,” the announcement notes. “The complaints from developers focus on the terms that mean they can only distribute their apps to iPhones and iPads via the App Store. These complaints also highlight that certain developers who offer ‘in-app’ features, add-ons[,] or upgrades are required to use Apple’s payment system, rather than an alternative system. Apple charges a commission of up to 30 percent to developers on the value of these transactions or any time a consumer buys their app.”

That bit should sound familiar, too: Developers being forced to use Apple’s payment system on Apple’s platforms is, of course, the other major complaint against the Cupertino electronics giant.

The CMA will determine whether Apple has a dominant position when it comes to distributing apps on iOS—which it does, of course, it has an absolute position—and, if so, whether Apple imposes unfair or anti-competitive terms on developers using the App Store, “ultimately resulting in users having less choice or paying higher prices for apps and add-ons.” That last bit is likewise obviously true: Prices to consumers would be lower if developers weren’t charged up to 30 percent for all paid apps and services, and if developers could use competing payment systems.

The CMA also notes that the European Commission (EC) currently has four open antitrust probes of Apple, all of which were launched prior to the Brexit transition. Three of those investigations concern the App Store. “The CMA continues to coordinate closely with the EC, as well as other agencies, to tackle these global concerns,” it says.

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