UK launches antitrust probe into Apple

The United Kingdom’s competition watchdog has launched an investigation into Apple after app developers complained that they’re being forced to use the company’s payment systems and distribute their products via its App Store.

The Competition and Markets Authority said Thursday that it will examine whether Apple is making developers agree to “unfair or anti-competitive” terms and conditions so their products can make it onto iPhones or iPads.

“Millions of us use apps every day to check the weather, play a game or order a takeaway,” CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said in a statement. “Complaints that Apple is using its market position to set terms which are unfair or may restrict competition and choice — potentially causing customers to lose out when buying and using apps — warrant careful scrutiny.”

Apple charges app developers a 30% commission on all content bought via its payment system. In November, the company said it would charge a reduced 15% commission for businesses earning less than $1 million in proceeds during the previous calendar year.

The probe comes as Apple faces growing pressure from regulators in many of its top markets. It mirrors a similar investigation launched by the European Commission last June.

In a statement, Apple defended its practices and said it would cooperate with the CMA investigation.

“The App Store has been an engine of success for app developers, in part because of the rigorous standards we have in place — applied fairly and equally to all developers — to protect customers from malware and to prevent rampant data collection without their consent,” the company said. “We look forward to working with the UK Competition and Markets Authority to explain how our guidelines for privacy, security and content have made the App Store a trusted marketplace for both consumers and developers.”

Apple isn’t the only company under the microscope in the United Kingdom since the country completed its transition out of the European Union at the end of last year.

The Competition and Markets Authority announced in January that it would investigate Google after the company said it would remove third-party cookies that allow advertisers to track millions of users on its Chrome browser. The watchdog cited fears this “could cause advertising spend to become even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem.”

Google announced on Wednesday that once third-party cookies are phased out, it won’t build alternate tools to track individuals across websites.

— Chris Liakos contributed reporting.