Special rule in the App Store used by Amazon raises questions

The app of the US streaming provider Amazon Prime Video has been able to bill sales to Apple’s App Store since the spring. Is there a deal behind this that is problematic? Apple refers to a generally applicable regulation.

Since the EU Commission opened an official investigation against the Apple App Store last week , a number of companies have spoken out. David Heinemeyer, co-founder of the software company Basecamp, even referred to the managers of the iPhone group as “mafiosi” and “gangsters”.

Others are also making grave allegations against the world’s most valuable company. They all accuse Apple of abusing its own market power by making access to its app store – the central sales channel for digital applications in addition to Google’s Play Store – difficult or subject to strict conditions. For example, the Apple auditors rejected a Facebook game app five times because it violated the rules of the app store. Apple sets these rules itself, and how they come about is not transparent.

An example that the EU Commission should take a closer look at in the next few months is the Prime Video app from the US group Amazon . Practically all app providers who sell non-physical goods in Apple’s App Store are obliged to use Apple’s own payment and subscription system. This incurs a 30 percent commission that Apple collects. For subscriptions that have been running for more than a year, it is 15 percent. Not so with Amazon: Here the streaming app uses Amazon’s own billing system, films and series are paid for with the user’s Amazon account. This was also proven by test purchases by WirtschaftsWoche. According to the US industry service “The Verge”, Amazon does not pay any commission to Apple.

The case is even more explosive due to the at least astonishing timing of the application of the special regulation by Amazon. Because Amazon first used it in the spring of this year, shortly after Apple launched its own streaming service Apple TV +. The offer was also available on Amazon’s Fire TV devices, which can be connected to televisions and with which users can now also receive the Apple offer.

It seems reasonable to assume that this temporal coincidence is more than a coincidence. When asked by Apple, however, it said that there are special rules for such video services in the app store that allow Amazon to use such a payment method. These have existed for a while, have not been developed for individual cases, and a provider in France also uses them. Apple therefore considers this to be unproblematic.

The question, however, is: under what circumstances did these rules arise? Apple has not yet provided any information on this, and Amazon also remains silent when asked. In the end, only the EU Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, can clarify beyond any doubt in her investigation. “It seems that Apple has taken on the role of a ‘gatekeeper’ in the distribution of apps and content to users of the popular Apple devices,” she said last week when the proceedings were opened.

Should there actually have been a deal between Apple and Amazon, the EU Commission could see it as evidence that Apple has used its market power in the App Store to indirectly prefer its own services. Apple may have treated providers in the App Store differently in order to give Apple TV + an advantage in the market. Streaming services like Netflix and Spotify have been trying for years to find a solution with the group on how users can buy their apps without incurring a commission for Apple. Apple had Spotify after a complaint to the EU, alleged that the company wanted to “retain all the benefits of the app store ecosystem – including the considerable revenue it generates from customers of the app store – without contributing to this marketplace”.