Epic has been engaged in a high-profile battle with Apple and Google over their app store policies. But the game maker isn’t the only company dissatisfied with Apple and Google taking a 30-percent cut of sales, insisting that all revenue generated from apps in their stores is subject to this “app tax,” and holding other allegedly anti-competitive policies.
So a group of 13 companies including Epic, Spotify, Basecamp, Match Group, and others has come together to form the Coalition for App Fairness, a non-profit that’s pushing for changes in the way Apple and Google act as gatekeepers for their respective app stores.
The move is obviously risky – the only official way to install apps on an iPhone or iPad is through Apple’s App Store, and the Google Play Store is the dominant channel for doing so on Android devices. Complaining publicly about app stores policies can be seen as biting the hand that feeds you.
But at issue is the larger question of whether app stores benefit developers more than they hurt them. Apple and Google claim that they provide value-added services that help with distribution, search and discovery, and monetization, among other things… and that may very well be true for some apps. But things get a little murkier for a company like Spotify, which is a big name in its own right and which probably doesn’t need much help from Apple or Google when it comes to promoting its app in their stores… but if you sign up for a Spotify subscription on a desktop or laptop computer, all of your subscription money goes to Spotify. If you do it on an iPhone, Apple will take a 30-percent cut.
But the app tax isn’t the only issue the Coalition for App Fairness is pushing to change. The group has put out a set of 10 App Store Principles:
- No developer should be required to use an app store exclusively, or to use ancillary services of the app store owner, including payment systems, or to accept other supplementary obligations in order to have access to the app store.
- No developer should be blocked from the platform or discriminated against based on a developer’s business model, how it delivers content and services, or whether it competes in any way with the app store owner.
- Every developer should have timely access to the same interoperability interfaces and technical information as the app store owner makes available to its own developers.
- Every developer should always have access to app stores as long as its app meets fair, objective and nondiscriminatory standards for security, privacy, quality, content, and digital safety.
- A developer’s data should not be used to compete with the developer.
- Every developer should always have the right to communicate directly with its users through its app for legitimate business purposes.
- No app store owner or its platform should engage in self-preferencing its own apps or services, or interfere with users’ choice of preferences or defaults.
- No developer should be required to pay unfair, unreasonable or discriminatory fees or revenue shares, nor be required to sell within its app anything it doesn’t wish to sell, as a condition to gain access to the app store.
- No app store owner should prohibit third parties from offering competing app stores on the app store owner’s platform, or discourage developers or consumers from using them.
- All app stores will be transparent about their rules and policies and opportunities for promotion and marketing, apply these consistently and objectively, provide notice of changes, and make available a quick, simple and fair process to resolve disputes.
Whether the companies have enough clout to actually bring about change remains to be seen – although the Washington Post reports that some members of the group are “in discussions with lawmakers who are considering legislation that would limit the power of big technology companies.”
But one thing they’re all betting on the fact that they represent enough popular, high-profile apps that users would revolt if they were suddenly all removed from the App Store and Google Play Store in retribution.