OP-ED: Trouble for Apple and its App Store

Is Apple playing the monopoly game?

If the coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it’s just how much people depend on a few large technology companies. The use of mobile apps and web services has increased significantly in recent years, as people adapted to new ways to stay in touch.

At the same time though, antitrust regulators in the US and Europe have been taking a much closer look as part of a growing desire to investigate the dominance of some large players in the technology market.

One of the issues is the amount of control that platform operators have over significant parts of the economy, and their ability to act as “gatekeepers” to markets in an anti-competitive manner. The EU has recently introduced new legislation to cover online platforms.

Recently, there have been a number of significant stories outlining a range of problems that developers have experienced with the Apple App Store in particular. This has led to developers forming a group called the Coalition for App Fairness, which advocates for three key issues to be resolved in Apple’s App Store.

1. Anti-competitive policies and conflicts of interest, where Apple is both the “gatekeeper” to the platform, admitting and setting the rules for third-party apps (such as Spotify), while also providing its own services (Apple Music, for example).

2. Charging 30% transaction fees on app sales and in-app purchases, and preventing developers from using or making users aware of other ways to pay with lower fees.

3. A lack of freedom for users to exercise choice and buy from others, which would allow a free market to settle on transaction fees.

Criticism and concern

One of the most significant criticisms of the company’s approach to the App Store is that there is no course of appeal available for developers that doesn’t rest with Apple. 

Larger companies have been able to negotiate exceptions to the rules, but in this case, the exception appears to apply only to three large tech companies (ClassPass, Facebook, and Airbnb), and not to other independent apps. This risks further exacerbating the concerns expressed by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, around the dominance of large tech companies due to…