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Apple May Finally Have to Answer for Its Unfair App Store Policies

An antitrust investigation in the EU combined with controversy over a new email app spell trouble for the tech giant

Owen Williams
OneZero
Published in
6 min readJun 18, 2020

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Photo: picture alliance/Getty Images

Just days before Apple’s annual developer event, the European Union hit the company with a bombshell: It’s beginning an antitrust investigation into Apple’s App Store rules. Spurred on by Spotify, which has publicly called for scrutiny of Apple’s anti-competitive practices, the investigation will focus on whether the App Store’s payment rules are fair.

For years, developers big and small have expressed concerns about Apple’s rules around in-app purchases and subscriptions. While developers can distribute their apps on the App Store for free, Apple requires that in-app purchases and subscriptions use its own billing tools, which demand a 30% cut of revenue.

Apple’s rules also forbid developers from sending their users to a website to pay instead, which would allow companies to use their existing payment mechanisms and dodge the fee. Services like Amazon’s Kindle and Netflix don’t use Apple’s payment services, so they must leave it up to users to figure out what to do to get access — they aren’t allowed to mention the requirement to manually subscribe outside of the app.

This is further complicated for companies that directly compete with services offered by Apple.

In the case of Spotify, for example, if the company used Apple’s payment system, it would find itself competing with Apple Music while being forced to allow the company to take a slice of its revenue when it loses users to Spotify. Instead, Spotify has joined companies like Netflix in forgoing Apple’s payment services.

Proponents of Apple’s approach argue that the company created the App Store platform on its own, and that it should be able to charge whatever it wishes for other companies to use it — which seems like a fair point when…

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Owen Williams
OneZero

Fascinated by how code and design is shaping the world. I write about the why behind tech news. Design Manager in Tech. https://twitter.com/ow