Competition regulators have launched a landmark investigation into Apple as a British crackdown on big tech gathers pace.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will examine claims that Apple’s App Store is unfair and anti-competitive, following years of accusations that the firm abuses its dominance by charging sky-high fees to developers.
It comes after the watchdog launched similar action at Google, Facebook and Amazon.
iPhone maker Apple charges developers a 30pc fee for any income they earn from apps listed on its store and forces them to sign up to a strict set of rules. It has been accused of draconian conduct by major providers including Epic Games, Spotify and Tinder.
App makers have also complained that they must use Apple's payment system for in-app purchases, rather than opting other alternatives.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: "Our ongoing examination into digital markets has already uncovered some worrying trends.”
"We know that businesses, as well as consumers, may suffer real harm if anti-competitive practices by Big Tech go unchecked. That's why we're pressing on with setting up the new Digital Markets Unit and launching new investigations wherever we have grounds to do so."
The Apple investigation comes as the UK watchdog seeks to move to the forefront of tech regulation after emerging from the shadow of EU authorities at the end of Britain's Brexit transition.
Britain is to set up a new digital markets unit within the CMA to focus on online companies amid growing calls for a tougher stance. Regulators launched an investigation into Google’s privacy rules in January and are also looking Facebook’s takeover of a rival. Last year they allowed an investment by Amazon into Deliveroo to go ahead following lengthy inquiries.
Apple said that it looks forward to working with the CMA to "to explain how our guidelines for privacy, security and content have made the App Store a trusted marketplace for both consumers and developers".
A spokesman said: "We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for customers to download the apps they love and a great business opportunity for developers everywhere.
“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 UK investigation into Apple comes amid reports that Europe's antitrust regulators are finalising a charge sheet against Apple over complaints levelled against the company by streaming service Spotify.
Spotify alleged Apple was unfairly restricting rivals to its own music service Apple Music, and also flagged the 30pc fee levied on developers.
Apple responded to the Spotify complaint in 2019, saying that the Swedish company wanted "all the benefits of a free app without being free".
Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek had alleged that Apple changed App Store policies on purpose to "limit choice and stifle innovation".
Apple denied this, insisting the App Store had allowed innovation to thrive as developers knew that "everyone was playing by the same set of rules".
Epic Games is already taking action against Apple in the US after it removed Fortnite from its App Store.
Apple said Epic circumvented its transaction fee rules. Fortnite was also removed from the Google Play Store, an Android alternative, for the same reason.
Epic Games chief executive Tim Sweeney said: "We will not stand idly by and allow Apple to use its platform dominance to control what should be a level digital playing field.
"It's bad for consumers, who are paying inflated prices due to the complete lack of competition among stores and in-app payment processing.
An Apple spokesman said that Epic had grown into a "multi-billion dollar business" using the app store and that it had violated guidelines that "apply equally to every developer". It has countersued Epic for theft in the US.
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