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Airbnb shared antitrust concerns with lawmakers after App Store standoff

Airbnb shared antitrust concerns with lawmakers after App Store standoff


Apple pressed the companies for a 30 percent commission of virtual sales under App Store rules

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

As antitrust pressure mounts against Apple’s App Store policies, The New York Times is reporting on how vacation rental company Airbnb and fitness class service ClassPass have run afoul of the policies in recent weeks. According to the report, both companies started offering virtual services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, only for Apple to get in contact to request 30 percent of sales made through their iOS apps.

The Times also reports that Airbnb met with lawmakers from the House Judiciary’s antitrust panel, who will be responsible for questioning Tim Cook about the iOS policies in an upcoming hearing.

The report initially claimed ClassPass had also met with lawmakers, but has since been corrected after ClassPass denied the meeting.

ClassPass said it discontinued the classes because honoring the commission “would require price increases that would dramatically reduce demand for these classes.” Apple offered to waive the In-App Purchase requirement after the decision had been made, but the company decided not to resurrect the project.

The news comes the day before Apple CEO Tim Cook is due to testify in front of the antitrust panel of the House Judiciary Committee, alongside the CEOs of Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Apple’s policy of taking 30 percent of fees paid through the App Store is expected to be discussed during the hearing, with critics alleging that the fee makes it harder to compete with Apple’s first-party services. Apple does not offer services that compete with Airbnb or ClassPass, however.

Both companies started offering virtual services due to the pandemic

The committee has amassed at least 1.3 million documents throughout the course of its investigation, held five hearings, and spent hundreds of hours conducting interviews as it investigates the big tech companies.

The EU also opened an antitrust investigation of its own into Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay policies earlier this year.

According to the NYT report, Airbnb started offering “online experiences” like cooking classes and meditation sessions in response to the pandemic. It’s an expansion of the experiences it started offering alongside its traditional vacation rentals back in 2016. The New York Times reports that Airbnb is still in negotiations with Apple.

Airbnb and ClassPass would not be the first companies to complain about Apple’s App Store policies. One high-profile example came earlier this year when Basecamp got embroiled in a bitter battle with Apple over its 30 percent commission policy after launching its Hey email service. Apple initially blocked its iOS app from receiving updates because there was no way to sign up in-app. It eventually allowed the app onto its store when Hey said it would offer email addresses for free that expire after 14 days.

Amid these complaints, the amount of money Apple is earning from services is booming. In its second quarter earnings in April, Cook reported an “all-time record” for the amount of revenue generated by Apple’s services division, which increased to $13.3 billion from $11.5 billion the year previously.

“To ensure every developer can create and grow a successful business, Apple maintains a clear, consistent set of guidelines that apply equally to everyone,” Apple told The New York Times in a statement. It said that its app guidelines date back to 2010.

Update July 28th, 1:17PM ET: Updated with response from ClassPass about the report, including the company’s denial that it spoke with lawmakers.

Update July 28th, 1:49PM ET: Updated to reflect NYT correction.