UPDATED: This isn’t the victory we had hoped for. Apple has only agreed to let developers contact their own customers about other ways to subscribe or pay for services … via email. And not in their native apps. That’s ridiculous. –Paul
Apple, amazingly, has settled a class-action lawsuit brought against it by app developers and will now let them communicate with their own customers. I know, that sounds like a “basic human right,” as Apple describes privacy, and something very much akin to free speech. But Apple is an abusive monopolist that does everything it can to squeeze every last penny it can out of developers who, to date, have had no other choices.
But slowly, that edifice is being chipped away by a growing tsunami of legal and antitrust challenges from around the globe. And this is the latest, but not the last, change that’s coming as a result. It is long overdue.
“The App Store has been an economic miracle; it is the safest and most trusted place for users to get apps, and an incredible business opportunity for developers to innovate, thrive, and grow,” Apple executive Phil Schiller said in a carefully crafted statement about the settlement. “We would like to thank the developers who worked with us to reach these agreements in support of the goals of the App Store and to the benefit of all of our users.”
According to the terms of the settlement, developers can now communicate with their own customers to let them know that there are alternative purchase options available to them; however, they still cannot do so inside of apps delivered by Apple’s App Store, just via email. That means that they can tell users about their own websites, for example, where they can pay for services outside of Apple’s in-app payment system.
Among the other major changes triggered by the settlement, Apple has also agreed to stop artificially changing search results to highlight its own apps and services. Or, as Apple humorously puts it, “Apple has agreed that its Search results will continue to be based on objective characteristics like downloads, star ratings, text relevance, and user behavior signals. For “at least the next three years.” Unbelievable.
Developers who have made less than $1 million per year—so about 99 percent of them, according to Apple—and were impacted by Apple’s monopolistic business practices from June 2015 through April 2021—again, about 99 percent of them—are entitled to damages payments worth $250 to $30,000 each. Apple has set aside $100 million for those payments.
Yes, this is only a single, small step towards the goal of truly fair mobile app stores. But it’s a first step, and one in the right direction. And it is perhaps notable that the judge overseeing this case, Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is the very same judge who is now deciding Epic v. Apple. And one has to think that this concession on Apple’s part represents a legal precedent that should impact that case as well. Good.