To fight Apple and Google, smaller app rivals organize coalition

Erin Griffith, The New York Times

Posted at Sep 25 2020 07:37 AM | Updated as of Sep 25 2020 08:17 AM

An Apple Store in Brooklyn on March 17, 2020. The new Coalition for App Fairness will push for changes in Apple’s and Google’s app stores. John Taggart, The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — For months, complaints from tech companies against Apple’s and Google’s power have grown louder.

Spotify, the music streaming app, criticized Apple for the rules it imposed in the App Store. A founder of the software company Basecamp attacked Apple’s “highway robbery rates” on apps. And last month, Epic Games, maker of the popular game Fortnite, sued Apple and Google, claiming they violated antitrust rules.

Now these app makers are uniting in an unusual show of opposition against Apple and Google and the power they have over their app stores. On Thursday, the smaller companies said they had formed the Coalition for App Fairness, a nonprofit group that plans to push for changes in the app stores and “protect the app economy.” The 13 initial members include Spotify, Basecamp, Epic and Match Group, which has apps like Tinder and Hinge.

“They’ve collectively decided, ‘We’re not alone in this, and maybe what we should do is advocate on behalf of everybody,’” said Sarah Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the group. She added that the new nonprofit would be “a voice for many.”

Scrutiny of the largest tech companies has reached a new intensity. The Department of Justice is expected to file an antitrust case against Google as soon as next week. In July, Congress grilled the chief executives of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook about their practices. And in Europe, regulators have opened a formal antitrust investigation into Apple’s App Store tactics and are preparing to bring antitrust charges against Amazon.

For years, smaller rivals were loath to speak up against the mammoth companies for fear of retaliation. But the growing backlash has emboldened them to take action.

At the heart of the new alliance’s effort is opposition to Apple’s and Google’s tight grip on their app stores and the fortunes of the apps in them. Both charge a 30 percent fee for payments made inside apps in their systems.

App makers have increasingly taken issue with the payment rules, arguing that a 30 percent fee hobbles their ability to compete. In some cases, they have said, they are competing with Apple’s and Google’s own apps and their unfair advantages.

Apple has argued that its fee is standard across online marketplaces.


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