Dutch Antitrust Watchdog Nears Draft Decision in App Store Probe

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The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets, or ACM for short, is reportedly nearing a draft decision in its investigation into Apple over rules that require developers to use its in-app payment system, which charges commissions of between 15% and 30%.

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According to Reuters, the ACM revealed that the draft decision was nearing completion in letters sent this month to some of the developers involved in the case. However, the letter didn’t divulge how the ACM would rule, nor when its decision will be finalized.

According to the letter, the regulator is also scrutinizing Apple rules that bar developers from telling users about cheaper payment alternatives outside of the app.

“It’s not just that Apple is inflicting economic harm,” said David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder of software firm Basecamp and one of those who received the letter. “Apple is essentially giving us a gag order.”

The development comes almost two years since ACM began investigating the App Store to determine whether Apple abuses its position by, for example, giving preferential treatment to its own apps.

ACM launched the investigation after completing a market study that explored the influence of app stores. For numerous apps, the watchdog found that no realistic alternatives to the ‌‌App Store‌‌ and Play Store exist, potentially giving Apple and Google the opportunity to set unfair conditions.

Apple is facing several antitrust investigations into its ‌App Store‌ practices, including a legal dispute with Epic Games over in-app transaction fees and an ongoing probe by the European Commission, prompted by a complaint by Spotify that accused Apple of acting as “both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers.”

If the ACM issues a decision soon, Reuters speculates that it could become the first antitrust authority to rule on Apple’s app-store payment policies which would set a precedent that could influence other ongoing investigations.

A separate ongoing ACM probe is investigating contactless platforms on smartphones and the access that payment apps have to NFC capabilities.

According to the ACM, the software that’s on some smartphones “only allows the developer’s own payment app to connect to NFC communication,” preventing third-party payment apps from also being able to use NFC capabilities.

On iPhones, Apple Pay is the only payment method able to use NFC. Apple does not permit other financial apps to use NFC, which has resulted in disputes with some banks and financial institutions.

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