Apple App Developers Questioned As Part Of DoJ Antitrust Probe

App developers are being questioned by the US Justice Department (DoJ) as part of its antitrust investigation of Apple and other big name technology giants.

This is according to Reuters, which cited one of the developers and another person familiar with the investigation as its source.

Apple’s relationship with app developers has at times been fraught with problems over the years. In June last year for example, Apple was hit with a lawsuit from two app developers, who alleged that the App store gives the iPad maker a monopoly on the sale and distribution of iOS apps.

Developers questioned

And now Reuters reported that the chief executive of developer Mobicip, Suren Ramasubbu, had been interviewed in November by a US investigator who asked about the company’s interactions with Apple.

The Mobicip app has nearly a million users worldwide, and allows parents to control what their children see on their iPhones.

Ramasubbu said the Mobicip app was temporarily removed from the iPhone app store last year for six months, over a failure to meet requirements imposed by Apple.

During its absence from the Apple App store, it was updated to be compliant with Apple rules, Ramasubbu said. It was reinstated in October 2019, but he estimated his company’s business has shrunk by half.

That development came after Apple introduced its Screen Time app, which includes parental controls, in June 2018.

Ramasubbu told Reuters his company was contacted by Apple at the start of 2019, and warned that Mobicip’s app violated the iPhone-maker’s rules relating to technical elements that had previously been acceptable.

Parental-control

Apple it should be remembered had clashed with the makers of a number of parental control apps back in April 2019, after it had removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps.

Apple apparently pulled those parental control apps which it deemed had violated its terms and conditions, namely the parental control apps using tech which gave developers access to sensitive data.

Six executives of parental control app companies interviewed by Reuters said they had a comfortable relationship with Apple until mid-2018. That is when Apple introduced its own Screen Time app.

In July last year Apple restored a parental control app called OurPact, after the app was revised and satisfied Apple’s scrutineers.

Meanwhile a source familiar with the Justice Department’s investigation told Reuters that a handful of app developers had been contacted.

Apple declined comment, but pointed to a statement on its website that says its app store was designed to hold apps “to a high standard for privacy, security and content.”

Antitrust clashes

Apple has had numerous antitrust clashes over the years.

Last May for example the US Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to an antitrust lawsuit that accused Apple of forcing consumers to overpay for iPhone software applications.

That lawsuit suit, originally filed in 2011, alleges that Apple’s practice of requiring users to buy apps from its own online shop leads to artificially inflated prices, in part due to the 30 percent levy Apple imposes upon developers.

Law firm Hagens Berman has previously won an e-book lawsuit against Apple and various publishing companies in 2016 that settled for a total of $560m on behalf of e-book purchasers forced to pay artificially high prices due to Apple and the publishing companies’ colluded price-fixing.

Spotify complaint

And in March 2019 the Swedish music streaming giant Spotify filed a complaint in which it accused Apple of unfairly using the dominance of its App Store to give the Apple Music service a competitive advantage.

That saw EU regulators reportedly readying a formal antitrust probe against Apple, following the Spotify complaint.

The Spotify complaint centres on Apple’s policy of charging digital content providers a 30 percent fee for using its payment system for subscriptions sold in the App Store.

Apple has strongly defended itself against Spotify’s complaints.

Quiz: How well do you know Apple?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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