The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) will investigate whether Apple abuses the position it has attained with its App Store.
ACM said it has received indications from other app providers over the course of its market study into app stores.
Henk Don, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: "To a large degree, app providers depend on Apple and Google for offering apps to users. In the market study, ACM has received indications from app providers, which seem to indicate that Apple abuses its position in the App Store. That is why ACM sees sufficient reason for launching a follow-up investigation, on the basis of competition law."
Businesses provide apps depend on the app stores of Apple and Google for offering their apps to users. Given the significant importance of these app stores to app providers, ACM expects Apple and Google to exhibit fair and transparent behavior. ACM will investigate, among other aspects, whether Apple acted in violation of the prohibition of abuse of dominance, for example, by giving preferential treatment to its own apps. At first, the investigation will focus on Apple because, at the moment, the most detailed reports have been received about Apple’s App Store. ACM believes that these reports may indicate conduct that is at odds with competition law.
Responding to ACM, Apple said it treated all app developers equally and was confident a Dutch antitrust investigation would end with the same conclusion.
ACM is calling on app providers to come forward if they experience any problems with Apple’s App Store, but also if they experience similar problems with Google’s Play Store. ACM will use that information in its investigation. The investigation initially focuses on Dutch apps for news media that offer their apps in Apple’s App Store. Although ACM has received many indications about such apps, a conclusion has not yet been drawn.
ACM launched the market study into app stores for mobile phones in order to gain more insight into how app providers get their apps in app stores, and what influence the app stores have on the selection of apps for users.
According to the study, app providers depend on the app store in order to reach users on their mobile phones. For numerous apps, no realistic alternatives to the App Store and Play Store exist. That gives, at least in theory, Apple and Google the opportunity to set unfair conditions. On the one hand, Apple and Google have an interest in offering many different apps from app providers in their app stores. However, Apple and Google are app providers in their own right, too. So their apps compete with those of other market participants. These competing interests may pose antitrust problems.
App providers say they do not always have a fair chance against Apple’s own apps or against apps that Google has pre-installed on phones. In addition, providers of digital products and services are required to use Apple’s and Google’s payment systems for in-app purchases, and they are also required to pay a 30% commission in the first year. Furthermore, they are not always able to use all functionalities of an iPhone. And finally, they say they have difficulties when communicating with Apple and Google about the application of their conditions. These problems, together with the indications submitted by app providers, are sufficient reason for ACM to launch an investigation into Apple’s behavior.
The antitrust probe adds to a growing backlash against the tolls Apple and Google charge to developers using their app stores. The EU’s powerful antitrust arm is weighing Spotify’s complaint targeting Apple. This builds on concerns that technology platforms control the online ecosystem and may rig the game to their own advantage. Amazon.com’s potential use of data on rival sellers is also being probed by the EU to check if it copies products.