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Will Apple’s Crackdown On Third-Party Apps Continue With iOS 13?

Posted  May 16, 2019
By Grant Petrosyan

Over the past year, Apple has removed or imposed restrictions on at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps on the iOS App Store. Apple began its “crackdown” on this category of apps around the same time it released iOS 12, which introduced Apple’s own screen-time tracking tool, Screen Time.

Next month, Apple will debut iOS 13. Bloomberg, CNET, and others have already provided some information as to what can be expected. According to these reports, Apple will begin offering new services and features that will directly compete with various third-party apps. Whether Apple will employ similar tactics as it did with respect to screen-time and parental-control apps—and what that means for competition—remains to be seen.

Apple Has Been Trending For The Wrong Reasons

The extensive news coverage Apple has received is no surprise. Apple is one of the largest and most successful companies in the world. However, this recent coverage focuses on Apple’s control of its app store and the growing number of antitrust complaints and investigations against Apple.

The music streaming app Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with the EU Commission alleging that Apple abuses its control of its app store to harm competition. The developers of popular parental-control apps Kidslox and Qustodio also filed antitrust complaints with the EU Commission alleging that Apple wrongfully removed their apps from its app store.

Additionally, Dutch regulators opened an investigation into whether Apple has abused its market position by giving preferential treatment to its own apps. Most recently, the EU Commission announced it will launch a formal antitrust investigation against Apple.

Several CEOs of parental-control apps have recently complained about Apple’s removal, or restriction, of their apps. These developers claim that Apple is attempting to monopolize the market for screen-time and parental-control services. Apple’s response has been that these apps raise privacy issues. However, the app developers contend that Apple’s justification is pretextual. Those that contest the merits of Apple’s conduct find the timing of Apple’s actions highly suspicious as the company began removing or restricting the apps around the same time it introduced Screen Time. Some of the apps that Apple has removed include OurPact and Mobicip, which have been downloaded more than 2.5 million times each.

Will Apple Remove Other Third-Party Apps from Its Platform As It Begins to Offer New Services That Compete Against Those Apps?

Apple is planning to debut its iOS 13 release in June. This software update will contain new or upgraded tools and features that will directly compete with various third-party apps. Some examples include revamped Health and Reminder services as well as an updated version of Maps. Other categories include phone and other device tracking services similar to those provided by third-party app Tile as well as screen display services similar to those offered by third-party apps Luna Display and Duet Display. As The Verge recently noted, Apple “seems like it’s lavishing particular attention on areas where third-party apps are stronger than Apple’s own (e.g. to do lists and navigation).”

While it is hard to predict whether Apple will exclude those popular apps when it introduces iOS 13, its past conduct may be instructive.

App Developers Should Take Heed

Third-party app developers should pay close attention to Apple’s actions with respect to competing services. As Qustodio’s CEO stated, “Apple systematically began hostilities against companies in our category with the ultimate goal of eliminating competition and limiting customer choice to Apple services only.” Apple’s control of access to its app store—which is the only platform from which consumers can download iOS apps—certainly poses the risk of an anticompetitive ecosystem. If Apple can use its app store to determine which screen-time and parental-control apps can exist or operate autonomously, it may do the same with other apps it competes against. As a recent Medium article stated, “That’s a world in which we’re all living under parental controls – with Apple itself playing Mommy and Daddy.”

Depending on the limitations Apple places on third-party apps after the release of iOS 13, there is a fair chance that third-party developers will invoke the antitrust laws down the road. Our antitrust laws were designed to provide a bulwark against conduct by dominant companies that stifle competition. Third-party developers appear to be poised to argue such conduct is happening to them.

Edited by Gary J. Malone

Tagged in: Antitrust Enforcement, Antitrust Litigation, International Competition Issues,