UK competition watchdog to probe Apple's 'unfair developer terms'

Apple’s 30% ‘app tax’ and potential dominance in the UK app market comes under scrutiny

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into whether Apple imposes unfair or anti-competitive terms on its app developers.

The regulator has said it will scrutinise Apple’s 30% ‘app tax’, and assess the company's potential dominance in the app distribution market in the UK and its ability to potentially inflate the costs of hosting applications on its store.

It also plans to investigate claims that 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”.

Apple's marketplace policies have come under intense scrutiny following a disagreement with Fortnite developer Epic Games last month. The game developer and publisher filed a complaint to the European Commission, accusing the tech giant of “abusive conduct” that breaches competition laws. It also filed a lawsuit against the company in the US after its Fortnite game was removed from the App Store.

Epic wasn’t immediately available for comment, but had previously maintained that it “is not seeking damages from Apple”, but “simply seeking fair access and competition that will benefit consumers and developers”.

Commenting on the launch of the investigation, CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said that the regulator’s “ongoing examination into digital markets has already uncovered some worrying trends”.

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“We know that businesses, as well as consumers, may suffer real harm if anti-competitive practices by big tech go unchecked. That’s why we’re pressing on with setting up the new Digital Markets Unit and launching new investigations wherever we have grounds to do so,” he added.

“Millions of us use apps every day to check the weather, play a game or order a takeaway. So, complaints that Apple is using its market position to set terms which are unfair or may restrict competition and choice – potentially causing customers to lose out when buying and using apps – warrant careful scrutiny.”

A CMA spokesperson told IT Pro that, in the case that the regulator finds that Apple had indeed breached competition law, "it can impose a fine up to 10% of Apple worldwide turnover and/or issue legally binding directions, which order a company to do something".

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