The developer of the secure email service ProtonMail has spoken out today against the way Apple is said to be using its app store to control access to iOS users and exclude competitors. The company is almost asking the regulators for stronger measures.
"Apple has become a monopoly that kills potential competitors with exploitative fees and censors on behalf of dictators," wrote Andy Yen, founder and CEO of ProtonMail, in a company blog post. "We know this because we have tacitly tolerated this exploitation for years."
According to Yen, Apple is using its market power to "take us all (developers) hostage". Regarding the 30 percent cut that Apple takes as a "tax" from sales through its app store, he added that traditional analogies to retail space in terms of software are breaking down:
Apple tries to justify these fees by arguing that the App Store is no different from a mall where companies wishing to sell their products have to pay rent to the mall owner (in this case, Apple). This argument conveniently ignores the fact that there is only one mall related to iOS and there is no possibility that a competing mall will rent space. It is not illegal for Apple to own a mall and rent space, nor is it illegal for Apple to own the only mall. What is illegal is taking advantage of the fact that it has the only mall that charges excessively high prices, which harms competitors.
"This is practically indistinguishable from a protective racket," argued Yen. "It's a fee that developers have to pay if they want to stay in business, and it's a fee that ultimately hurts consumers because those fees are passed on indirectly to users, either through higher prices or through less competing products the market."
ProtonMail isn't the first to argue that Apple's 30 percent cut is a tax that unjustifiably cuts other companies' earnings and makes it harder to measure up against Apple's first-party apps. This behavior is not only illegal, Yen wrote, but "it is simply unethical to use this power to suppress digital freedom and it is long overdue that someone called Apple for this behavior."
Amazon, Facebook and Google are more often in the hot seat for breach of trust, anti-competitive behavior and potential abuse of market power. But Apple is also facing a multitude of probes – not only in the United States, but especially in Europe.
Spotify filed a cartel complaint against Apple with European regulators in March 2019. "Apple introduced rules in the App Store that deliberately restrict selection and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience," said company founder and CEO Daniel Ek at the time. The Ereader Service Kobo joined the complaint in June this year.
The European Commission's preliminary investigation revealed "concerns that Apple's restrictions could distort competition for music streaming services on Apple's devices", and last month the EU officially opened a more in-depth investigation into Apple's App Store and its Apple Pay Payment system.
David Heinemeier Hansson, founder of Hey's email management service, publicly complained last month that Apple had privileged its own services over third-party apps like his. "They're listening to some of these app developers and they sound like hostages," Hansson told Protocol. "They sound like they're reading a prepared statement, otherwise Apple could harm their business. Which is true!"
The messaging app Telegram also joined the fight last week when it filed a complaint to the EU, claiming that Apple was abusing its "monopolistic power" to suppress innovation.