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Apple agrees to give some App Store developers more control over customer relationships

The move is the latest concession the company has made to quell antitrust scrutiny.

A computer at an Apple store in Palo Alto, Calif. in May 2021. (Nina Riggio/Bloomberg)

Apple announced a new concession for some App developers Wednesday, giving apps such as Netflix and online publishers the ability to provide links to outside sign-up pages.

Apple’s App Store rules currently prohibit all developers from notifying their customers about alternative payment options where Apple cannot collect a sales commission. The new rules will only apply to sharing links within “reader apps” that provide previously purchased content or subscriptions for content such as newspapers, books, music and video.

The move, a concession to end a probe by the Japan Fair Trade Commission, is the latest sign that a global wave of investigations, litigation and legislation related to Apple’s allegedly anticompetitive behavior is beginning to chip away at some of the company’s long-held and lucrative business policies.

Apple loosens rules for developers amid antitrust pressure

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The only way software developers can get their apps onto Apple’s mobile devices is to go through the App Store, where the iPhone maker collects up to a 30% commission on all sales of “digital goods.”

Some companies, such as Netflix and streaming service Spotify, have stopped allowing customers to pay through the App Store, circumventing Apple’s payment system. But those companies are not allowed to explain to customers how to pay. Customers must figure it out on their own.

Wednesday’s announcement is so far the most significant change Apple has made in response to antitrust pressure. But it probably won’t be the last and it won’t satisfy many developers, some of whom will still be prohibited from steering customers to outside payment options even after the change goes into effect next year.

Apple is awaiting a decision in a lawsuit brought by Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite. During the three-week trial, Epic argued that Apple should be forced to allow iPhone owners to install software outside of the App Store, just like they can on a Mac computer. And rather than steer customers to outside websites, Epic wants the ability to offer alternative payment processing services directly within the app.

Apple argued in court that it must control app distribution and payment processing to protect the security of its users.