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Apple sued by French media over App Store power

Gros fromages take on big Pomme

Apple faces fresh claims its App Store rules violate antitrust laws and stifle competition, now in a lawsuit filed on Monday, led by three French media conglomerates.

Societe du Figaro, L'Équipe, and Le Geste publish news, cover sports, and produce other types of digital content across multiple platforms, including mobile apps. They sued Apple, claiming the tech goliath's official App Store – which iOS users and developers are pretty much forced to use – allows it to act as a monopoly and set draconian policies that iOS developers are forced to accept. 

The French publishers also slammed the company for not allowing developers to set whatever price they want to sell their apps: the lowest can only be set to $0.99. The media companies are also unhappy that Apple, being in control of the whole ecosystem, can take an arbitrary cut of in-app purchases and other sales through the App Store. These rules can have a chilling effect on developers, who may doubt whether it's worth launching an app at all, the plaintiffs claimed.

"Developers and would-be developers who are or were able to earn only the default 70 percent on the dollar on each paid app or in-app product, and who must pay Apple USD$99 (or equivalent) annually for their digital products to be sold in or via the App Store (or in or via apps acquired therefrom), must consider whether to spend the effort, time, and energy that is required to design and program an app or related product; bring it to market in the single store available; and endeavor to recoup costs and make a reasonable profit," they argued in their lawsuit [PDF] filed in a federal district court in northern California.

The complaint is seeking class action status. Interestingly, the suit aims to "remedy the harm that Apple has caused to France-resident iOS developers ... by way of its violations of US antitrust and California fair-competition law." So Apple is being sued for allegedly breaking its home country's laws, not French or European law.

Many developers decide to put up with Apple's rules – so much so that the App Store is reportedly saturated with 1.8 million apps. Consumers are swamped, and often just download top apps promoted on the platform. Many developers' products are never sold because they never see the light of day, the French publishers alleged. All these problems can be solved if there were multiple App Stores for different types of categories of software to make competition fairer, they argued. 

"If Apple did not shut out all competition from access to iOS device owners, there would be more stores that could feature more apps, as well as stores that would specialize in certain kinds of apps.

"Also, competitors would find new ways, including by way of leveraging existing technology or inventing other and better means, to bring more apps to the attention of iOS device owners," the lawsuit argued.

"Additionally, such competitors would motivate Apple to make its own App Store more usable and functional, where currently it has no such incentive from competitors. In other words, competition would bring more and better means to pair end-users with the applications and in-app products they are looking for, need, or want."

Societe du Figaro, L'Équipe, and Le Geste believe Apple has violated the federal antitrust Sherman Act and California's Competition Law and Cartwright Act by acting as the sole gatekeeper of the App Store. They want other affected developers to join the class-action effort, for Apple to pay damages, and for judges to grant injunctive relief for the harm caused by its anti-competitve policies. 

The Register has asked Apple for comment.

A group of developers brought a similar class-action lawsuit challenging Apple's App Store monopoly in 2019. The iGiant settled the case in 2021 and implemented a few changes. The 30 percent fee developers pay for each in-app purchase transaction, for example, was lowered to 15 per cent for small businesses that made less than a million dollars in revenue.

Apple also promised to "drive search results by a variety of factors that will give new and high-quality apps a chance to be found." ®

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