Apple hit with German antitrust probe over app store

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Germany’s antitrust regulator said Monday that it has opened a far-reaching investigation into whether Apple uses its wide variety of products to squash competition, adding to the company’s regulatory woes. 

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office — which has also opened investigations into Facebook, Amazon and Google so far this year — will use its investigative powers to see if Apple is engaging in “anti-competitive practices” across its various business lines, the regulator said. 

“A main focus of the investigations will be on the operation of the App Store as it enables Apple in many ways to influence the business activities of third parties,” said Federal Cartel Office President Andreas Mundt in a statement. “We will, among other aspects, examine its extensive integration across several market levels, the magnitude of its technological and financial resources and its access to data.”

Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

The Federal Cartel Office, known as the Bundeskartellamt in German, was equipped by legislators with robust new investigate powers that took effect in January, giving the agency new firepower to take on US tech giants. 

The German regulator said that Apple has “created a digital ecosystem around its iPhone that extends into several markets,” citing hardware like the iPad and Apple Watch as well as other services like the App Store, Apple Music and Apple TV+. The company’s presence in such a wide range of industries could run afoul of competition rules, according to the regulator.  

Apple is also facing an antitrust investigation from the European Union over the company’s practice of forcing developers to use its own payments system for purchases made within apps, charging fees of up to 30 percent. 

The question of in-app payments is also at the center of the US legal battle between Fortnite maker Epic Games and Apple. A verdict in that trial is expected in the coming weeks. 

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office said it reviewed complaints from app developers over Apple’s payment policies and that the company could address the issue in a possible future proceeding. 

Other subjects of possible proceedings include Apple’s restriction of user tracking introduced with iOS 14.5, the company’s practice of pre-installing its own apps on its devices and marketing restrictions for third-party developers within Apple’s app store, the German regulator said. 

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