Kremlin condemns “abuse” of downtrodden devs on Apple App Store

By Robert Scammell

Russia has become the latest country to launch an antitrust case against Apple for stopping app developers from providing alternative payment options in its iOS App Store.

The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) of Russia could hit Apple with a fine based on its turnover but did not specify an amount. Previous penalties against tech giants in Russia have been significantly smaller than in the US and Europe.

The FAS said in a statement that it had given Apple a prior warning and a 30 September deadline to “stop violating anti-monopoly legislation”.

It added that Apple’s policy of preventing developers from informing customers to payment methods outside of the App Store meant the Cupertino-headquartered giant is “abusing its dominant position in the distribution market for iOS applications”.

Verdict has approached Apple for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

This year Russia has stepped up its fines on US tech giants, including a $41,000 fine against Google for violating Russian personal data law – equivalent to approximately 7 seconds of revenue or 14 cattle.

The country’s regulators also launched administrative proceedings against Facebook and Twitter for alleged breaches of its data storage laws.

And in May they were both told to open databases in Russia to store the data they hold on Russian citizens or face fines of up to 18 million roubles ($246,000), or 84 cattle.

For Apple, it is the latest blow to the iron grip it holds on the App Store. The tech titan has been forced to make payment concessions in the US and South Korea. That list looks set to grow as regulators around the world increasingly scrutinise digital marketplaces.

Apple pays for App Store payment rules

A common point of concern has been Apple’s anti-steering rules, which prevent developers from informing consumers of alternative means of payment. This forces developers to use Apple’s in-app payment system, which charges a commission of up to 30%.

As part of the ruling in its high-profile legal battle with Epic Games, Apple was told by a US judge to let app developers include an external link or information directing consumers to other ways of paying.

Developers can also inform consumers of the alternative payment method using contact details provided via the app.

Ahead of the Epic Games lawsuit, Apple made limited concessions that allows developers to contact consumers with alternative subscription options – but not via in-app messaging.

South Korea passed a bill in September permitting developers to use their own payment systems, effectively blocking major app store operators such as Google and Apple from collecting app purchase commissions.

Separately, Apple also said it will let developers of “reader apps” link to their own external sign-up website. The policy change applies globally and allows companies such as Netflix and Spotify to avoid paying commissions that would be collected if using the App Store’s in-app payment system.