The Netherlands' competition regulator is finally happy with concessions by Apple to allow dating apps in the market to use alternative payment technologies.
On Saturday the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) provided an update on the multi-month saga which has drawn high-level attention on Apple's approach to complying with competition orders, saying the tech giant had changed unfair conditions it had been imposing following an order by the regulator to allow dating apps to use non-Apple payment tech for processing in-app purchases.
"Until recently, customers of dating apps had only been able to pay using the payment method that Apple imposed. In ACM’s opinion, Apple abused its dominant position with those practices," the ACM wrote in the update. "From now on, dating-app providers are able to let their customers pay in different ways."
The ACM has hit Apple with a series of fines since January -- totalling €50 million -- for non-compliance with its order, and had warned it could issue further penalties if Apple did not resolve its concerns.
The watchdog had been considering a revised offer Apple made back in March -- after finding problems with how Apple had implemented earlier concessions and judging conditions it applied to be "unreasonable", as well as accusing it of creating an "unnecessary barrier" for developers of dating apps.
"Apple now complies with the rules," the regulator added. "That is why ACM no longer needs to impose a new order subject to periodic penalty payments. Over the past few months, ACM had collected information from dating-app providers and independent experts before its assessment that Apple complied with the order."
Commenting in a statement, Martijn Snoep, chairman of the ACM's board, also said: “We want everyone to be able to reap the benefits of the digital economy. In the digital economy, powerful companies have a special responsibility to keep the market fair and open. Apple avoided that responsibility, and abused its dominant position vis-à-vis dating-app providers. We are glad that Apple has finally brought its conditions in line with European and Dutch competition rules. That offers app providers more opportunities to compete. And consumers will ultimately reap the benefits, too.”
Details of how exactly Apple revised its concession to satisfy the ACM are not immediately clear -- but, among a number of tweaks to its original offer, Apple previously dropped a requirement that dating apps compile a separate binary which the regulator had deemed overly burdensome.
In documentation for developers distributing dating apps in the Netherlands, Apple confirms they may do one of the following:
continue using Apple’s in-app purchase system,
use a third-party payment system within the app,
include an in-app link directing users to the developer’s website to complete a purchase, or
use a third-party payment system within the app and include a link directing users to the developer’s website to complete a purchase.
"Developers of dating apps who want to continue using Apple’s in-app purchase system may do so and no further action is needed. Those who want to use a different payment system will need to request the StoreKit External Purchase Entitlement or the StoreKit External Purchase Link Entitlement, or both," Apple also writes.
"The entitlements that comply with the ACM order are only available for dating apps on the App Store in the Netherlands, and apps distributed pursuant to those entitlements must only be used in an iOS and/or iPadOS app on the Netherlands storefront. Apple will review each dating app submitted to ensure it complies with the terms and conditions of the entitlement, as well as the App Store Review Guidelines and the Apple Developer Program License Agreement," it adds.
The ACM's original order to Apple dates back to August 2021 but full details have still not been released as they remain under court seal following legal action by Apple -- which filed an objection to the order and succeeded in suspending part of it until after that (ongoing) objection procedure against the full order is completed. Although the court allowed the ACM to publish a portion of the decision and levy periodic penalty payments against Apple for non-compliance.
Apple was contacted for comment. The company did not offer additional public remarks -- but pointed to an update it put out Friday where it discuses the "additional adjustments" it made to its offer after further conversations with the ACM, which it specifies includes tweaks to user interface requirements; and to payment processing provider criteria.
Apple also notes that a 3% "commission discount" also applies to in-app purchases that qualify for its lower commission rate (15%).
In its documentation for developers Apple also discusses this discount, writing there:
Consistent with the interim relief ruling of the Rotterdam district court, dating apps that are granted an entitlement to link out or use a third-party in-app payment provider will pay Apple a commission on transactions. Apple will reduce its commission by 3% on the price paid by the user, net of value-added taxes. This is a reduced rate that excludes value related to payment processing and related activities. Developers will be responsible for the collection and remittance of any applicable taxes, such as the Netherlands’ value-added tax (VAT), for sales processed by a third-party payment provider.
"We don’t believe some of these changes are in the best interests of our users’ privacy or data security. Because Apple is committed to constructive engagement with regulators, we’re making the additional changes at the ACM’s request. As we’ve previously said, we disagree with the ACM’s original order and are appealing it," Apple's update also notes.
This report was updated with details of Apple's earlier update. We also corrected the date of the ACM's update -- which was put out Saturday rather than late Friday as we originally misstated