Apple finds way to squeeze social network apps until pips squeak

And get over here, NFT slingers, Cupertino wants a word, too

In a move antitrust watchdogs will surely have no problem with at all, Apple this week revised its App Store rules to limit NFTs, take a cut of paid-for "boosts" for social media posts, and crack down on developers in a few other ways.

While covering quite a bit of ground, the most important updates to its guidelines center on Apple making it very clear to software makers: if you're selling things in your app, and your app is distributed by App Store, those sales better go through the iGiant's in-app payment system, allowing it to take a percentage of that revenue.

Apple also said any app submitted to be included in the App Store must be fully accessible to its review team. By that, Apple means to say that if any features are locked behind a login prompt or otherwise restricted, they'd better be accessible to Apple's reviewers. 

More like It's Apple's Purchase

Apple is also cracking down on how NFT apps in the App Store are allowed to operate, with Cupertino seemingly worried it's losing money to certain apps.

While Apple is fine with apps using its payment system to sell NFTs to people, and perform other services such as transferring the tokens, it's not happy with ownership of NFTs unlocking features or functionality of an app. Presumably, Apple doesn't want people buying NFTs away from its purchasing system, and then using those tokens to activate stuff in apps – Apple would rather you pay for those features in the app via its purchasing system, so that Cupertino can take its cut, which can be as much as 30 percent.

Further, Apple said that while NFT apps can be used to browse the collections of others, the apps can't include any "calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase," Apple said. So, no directing an NFT buyer to an outside market to make a purchase.

Beyond NFTs, Apple said apps can't use their own mechanisms to unlock any other forms of content or app functionality "such as license keys, augmented reality markers, QR codes, cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency wallets, etc." Again, this is to stop people paying for things outside of Cupertino's walled garden, things that are then used in apps from its App Store.

In regards to social media "boosts," such as someone paying to promote a post to a wider audience, Apple said those have to be bought via its payment system, so that it can take its slice of that revenue.

Apple made some additional changes, including a eyebrow-raising ban on apps that exploit terror attacks, epidemics, and other bad times for profit; a requirement that apps that support the Matter smart home standard use Apple's own Matter framework; and a requirement that cryptocurrency exchange apps only operate in countries where they have appropriate licenses. 

Another seed for the lawsuit orchard

Apple seems to have plenty of appetite for expanding its in-app payment rules, no matter what regulators, developers, or the public think.

The Silicon Valley giant earned widespread condemnation for its decision to not only take a 30 percent cut of in-app purchases, but also to remove Fortnite from the App Store after Epic tried allowing players to buy in-game currency on its website for a lower price than through Cupertino. While Apple largely prevailed in the US case against Epic, the two companies are still duking it out in Australian courts.

Other lawsuits have popped up to challenge Apple's ability to restrict in-app purchases to its own backend systems, such as in the Netherlands, where it was told it had to allow third-party payments in dating apps; and another suit in California, where French publishers upset at the iGiant's requirements and not being allowed to set their own prices for certain items have filed what they hope will become a class action.

Whether the app review changes will trigger more litigation remains to be seen. What Apple is adding to its app review process, though, is hard to see as anything other than doubling down on a policy that's already attracted bad press and legal hassle. ®

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