The UK government has announced that the Competition and Markets Authority will respond to complaints that the App Store (which controls what apps can be downloaded on Apple devices and takes a 30% cut of all payments) may break competition law by launching an investigation into “anti-competitive behaviour.”
This is perhaps most notable in the larger context of various European Commission probes into the company, and the larger campaign against the App Store by Fortnite maker Epic Games.
“The CMA’s investigation will consider whether Apple has a dominant position in connection with the distribution of apps on Apple devices in the UK—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.”
The investigation will look at Apple as a corporate group in its entirety as it relates to the UK: so Apple UK Limited, Apple Europe Limited, and Apple Inc, the US parent company.
While never cited by name (the announcement cites complaints from “several developers”) it’s not hard to make a connection with Epic’s ongoing crusade against the App Store. The Fortnite maker brought its fight to the UK in January by filing a complaint with the Competition Appeal Tribunal, and has made similar moves in Europe and the US.
“This is only the beginning of the investigation and no decision has yet been made on whether Apple is breaking the law,” says the announcement. But chief executive Andrea Coscelli adds the authority’s investigations into wider digital markets have already shed light on some “worrying trends”.
“Millions of us use apps every day to check the weather, play a game or order a takeaway,” said Coscelli. “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.”
Epic’s fight with Apple will go to court later this year, lawyers for the two firms revealed earlier this week. As part of its defence, Apple subpoenaed Valve demanding it provide huge amounts of commercial data to support its case.
The CMA’s announcement ends by aligning itself with the current EU investigations into Apple’s practices, and emphasising that despite Brexit it continues to work alongside the European Commission.
“The European Commission (EC) currently has four open antitrust probes into Apple, which were launched prior to the end of the UK’s Transition Period. These include three open investigations into Apple’s App Store. The CMA continues to coordinate closely with the EC, as well as other agencies, to tackle these global concerns.”