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Apple hit with weekly €5M fines in Dutch dating app dispute

Apple hit with weekly €5M fines in Dutch dating app dispute

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It had been ordered to let dating apps use other payments systems

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The Dutch competition regulator, the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), has fined Apple €5 million (around $5.6 million) for failing to let dating app developers use third-party payment methods, the ACM has announced. The regulator says that Apple will continue to be fined €5 million a week until it properly complies with the order, which was publicly issued on December 24th.

With a market cap of well over $2 trillion and revenues last quarter of $83.4 billion, Apple’s bottom line is unlikely to be impacted by these €5 million fines. But the Dutch regulator’s actions, like South Korea’s before it, could embolden others to take action against Apple’s App Store policies, as well as Google’s which are also being scrutinized.

Apple made some effort to comply with the ACM’s instructions. Ahead of the January 15th deadline, the iPhone manufacturer announced that it would allow dating apps to offer third-party payment options in the Netherlands. Developers would be allowed to direct customers to a website to complete their purchase, or offer in-app purchases within their apps that don’t use Apple’s own in-app purchase system. “We are obligated to make the mandated changes which we’re launching today and we will provide further information shortly,” the company said at the time.

Apple faces a €5M fine per week if it continues to not comply

But the ACM has taken issue with Apple’s approach. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it says Apple hasn’t actually rolled out support for third-party payment providers in the Dutch App Store. The ACM notes that developers are now able to express their “interest” in using alternative payment systems, but that they’re not actually able to use them in their apps. “Apple has failed to adjust its conditions,” the regulator writes, “as a result of which dating-app providers are still unable to use other payment systems.”

Secondly, the ACM says that Apple appears to be forcing dating app developers to choose between pointing users to make payments outside of their app, or using an alternative in-app payment system. “Providers must be able to choose both options,” the ACM says.

When it announced the changes earlier this month, Apple said it still intended to collect a commission on payments made using external payment processors. It also indicated that developers would need to offer a separate version of their app for the Dutch market to access this functionality. The ruling relates specifically to dating apps rather than apps more generally, following a complaint from Match Group (owners of Tinder and other dating services), Reuters reported last year.

Apple did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment on the ACM’s fine. But earlier this month it said it would be appealing the ACM’s decision. “Because we do not believe these orders are in our users’ best interests, we have appealed the ACM’s decision to a higher court,” the company said. “We’re concerned these changes could compromise the user experience, and create new threats to user privacy and data security.”

The decision was welcomed by Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney, who called Apple’s earlier response to the order a “sham solution.” Epic Games is currently embroiled with a long-running dispute with Apple over its App Store policies.

Apple’s policy of forcing many developers to use its own in-app payments system, for which it often collects a 30 percent commission, has been a consistent focus of antitrust scrutiny around the world. Last year, South Korea passed a law preventing major platform owners like Apple from forcing developers to use their own in-app payment systems (Apple said it intends to comply earlier this month). Meanwhile, in the US a judge forced Apple to allow developers to link out to other payment processors, although this ruling was subsequently put on hold pending appeal.

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