Dutch Antitrust Watchdog to Investigate Apple over Potentially Anticompetitive App Store Behaviour

Apple is under investigation by a Dutch regulatory body over whether it favors its own apps over those of its rivals.

According to a new report from Bloomberg, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) will investigate Apple to see whether it has used its dominant position in the App Store to promote its own apps ahead of others. ACM will do so following indications from other app providers — like Spotify, which has also recently filed an antitrust complaint against Apple — over the course of its market study into app stores.

Bloomberg reports:

The Netherlands’ Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM) will examine whether Apple abuses a dominant market position “by giving preferential treatment to its own apps,” it said in a statement on Thursday. The probe will initially focus on Apple’s App Store, where regulators have received the most detailed complaints, and Dutch apps for news media, but is also calling on app providers to flag if they have any problems with Google’s Play Store.

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.

The ACM today published a report on mobile app stores, in which it said its initial exploration of the issue had raised a significant number of concerns in regards to Apple’s app store:

Within the iOS-ecosystem, there are no realistic alternatives for apps or the App Store, so the App Store forms a bottleneck within the iOS-ecosystem […] App providers experience problems with the interoperability with the operating system of with functionalities on the phone, like with Siri or the NFC-chip. Other app providers have indicated that even though their apps are given full access to the app stores they have a strong disadvantage compared with proprietary Apple and Google apps, due to the pre-installation of their own apps.

“To a large degree, app providers depend on Apple and Google for offering apps to users,” says ACM board member Henk Don. “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.”

In the ACM report, it’s highlighted that the lack of alternatives to the App Store or Google Play create theoretical problems in which Apple and Google could create unfair competitive conditions and that as both companies develop their own apps, competing with the rest of the market “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,” reads the ACM’s description. “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.”

ACM makes it clear that just because it will be investigating Apple’s behaviour, it does not make the company guilty of any wrongdoing leading up to this move.

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