Tech industry groups have cautioned the Supreme Court about the potential threat to free iOS apps if mobile app developers are compelled to provide in-app links to payment platforms. They are urging the court to review an injunction that would restrict Apple from enforcing its longstanding anti-steering policies, which forbid app developers from including in-app links to payment alternatives other than those offered by Apple.
NetChoice and Chamber of Progress have submitted a friend-of-the-court brief, expressing concerns that if Apple cannot enforce these anti-steering rules for in-app purchases, app developers may seek alternative payment processors that charge lower fees, effectively bypassing Apple’s transaction systems.
According to these industry groups, should such a scenario materialize, Apple might need to start charging developers for the initial downloads of their apps, which were previously free. This would increase deployment costs for developers, and they would either have to discourage downloads or begin charging users for app downloads.
The backdrop of this legal discussion harks back to a 2020 antitrust dispute between Apple and Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite. The conflict revolved around Apple’s policy at the time, which mandated developers to use its payment platform for in-app purchases and imposed a commission of up to 30% on those sales.
In 2021, Apple conceded to permit developers to notify app users via email or phone about external payment options but not within the app itself.
Epic Games, in response, allowed gamers to make direct purchases through its platform, breaching Apple’s policy. Apple, in turn, removed Fortnite from the App Store, leading to Epic’s legal action against Apple for monopolizing the iOS distribution market.
In 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled in favor of Apple on antitrust claims but determined that Apple’s anti-steering policy violated California’s unfair competition law. An injunction was issued, obliging Apple to allow developers to add in-app links to payment options outside of Apple’s platform.
Both Apple and Epic appealed this decision to the 9th Circuit, which upheld the ruling but temporarily suspended the injunction while awaiting Supreme Court review.
Apple and Epic are expected to submit further written arguments to the Supreme Court early next month.