The Coalition for App Fairness (CAF), a newly-formed advocacy group pushing for increased regulation over app stores, has more than doubled in size with today’s announcement of 20 new partners — just one month after its launch. The organization, led by top app publishers and critics including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify and others, debuted in late September to fight back against Apple and Google’s control over app stores, and particularly the stores’ rules around in-app purchases and commissions.
The coalition claims both Apple and Google engage in anti-competitive behavior, as they require publishers to use the platforms’ own payment mechanisms, and charge 30% commission on these forced in-app purchases. In some cases, those commissions are collected from apps where Apple and Google offer a direct competitor. For example, the app stores commission Spotify, which competes with Google’s YouTube Music and Apple’s own Apple Music.
The group also calls out Apple more specifically for not allowing app publishers any other means of addressing the iOS user base except through the App Store that Apple controls. Google, however, allows apps to be sideloaded, so is less a concern on that platform.
The coalition launched last month with 13 app publishers as its initial members, and invited other interested parties to sign up to join.
Since then, CAF says “hundreds” of app developers expressed interest in the organization. It’s been working through applications to evaluate prospective members, and is today announcing its latest cohort of new partners.
This time, the app publishers aren’t necessarily big household names, like Spotify and Epic Games, but instead represent a wide variety of apps, ranging from studios to startups.
The apps also hail from a number of app store categories, including Business, Education, Entertainment, Developer Tools, Finance, Games, Health & Fitness, Lifestyle, Music, Navigation, News, Productivity, Shopping, Sport, and Travel.
The new partners include: development studio Beonex, health app Breath Ball, social app Challenge by Eristica, shopping app Cladwell, fitness app Down Dog Yoga, developer tool Gift Card Offerwall, game maker Green Heart Games, app studio Imagine BC, business app Passbase, music app Qobuz, lifestyle app QuackQuack and Qustodio, game Safari Forever, news app Schibsted, app studio Snappy Mob, education app SpanishDict, navigation app Sygic, app studio Vertical Motion, education app YARXI, and the Mobile Marketing Marketing Association.
With the additions, CAF now includes members from Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Israel, Malaysia, Norway, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States.
The new partners have a range of complaints against the app stores, and particularly Apple.
SpanishDict, for instance, was frustrated by weeks of rejections with no recourse and inconsistently applied policies, it says. It also didn’t want to use Apple’s new authentication system, Apple Sign-In, but Apple made this a requirement for being included on the App Store.
Passbase, a Sign In With Apple competitor, also argues that Apple applied its rules unfairly, denying its submission but allowing its competitors on the App Store.
While some of the app partners are speaking out against Apple for the first time, others have already detailed their struggles publicly.
Eristica posted on its own website how Apple shut down its seven-year old social app business, which allowed users to challenge each other to dares to raise money for charity. The company claims it pre-moderated the content to ensure dangerous and harmful content wasn’t published, and employed human moderators, but was still rejected over dangerous content.
Meanwhile, TikTok remained on the App Store, despite hosting harmful challenges, like the pass out challenge, cereal challenge, salt and ice challenge and others, Eristica says.
Apple, of course, tends to use its policies to shape what kind of apps it wants to host on its App Store — and an app that focused on users daring one another may have been seen as a potential liability.
That said, Eristica presents a case where it claims to have followed all the rules and made all the changes Apple said it wanted, and yet still couldn’t get back in.
Down Dog Yoga also recently made waves by calling out Apple for rejecting its app because it refused to auto-charge customers at the end of its free trial.
Wow! Apple is rejecting our latest update because we refuse to auto-charge at the end of our free trial. They can choose to steal from their customers who forget to cancel, but we won't do the same to ours. THIS IS A LINE THAT WE WILL NOT CROSS. pic.twitter.com/s9HwD4ay4h
— Down Dog (@downdogapp) June 30, 2020
The issue, in this case, wasn’t just that Apple wants a cut of developers’ businesses, it also wanted to dictate how those businesses are run.
Another new CAF partner, Qustodio, was among the apps impacted by Apple’s 2018 parental control app ban, which arrived shortly after Apple introduced its own parental control software in iOS.
The app developer had then co-signed a letter asking Apple release a Screen Time API rather than banning parental control apps — a consideration that TechCrunch had earlier suggested should have been Apple’s course of action in the first place.
Under increased regulatory scrutiny, Apple eventually relented and allowed the apps back on the App Store last year.
Not all partners are some little guy getting crushed by App Store rules. Some may have run afoul of rules designed to protect consumers, like Apple’s crackdown on offerwalls. Gift Card Offerwall’s SDK, for example, was used to incentivize app monetization and in-app purchases, which isn’t something consumers tend to welcome.
Apple revises App Store rules to permit game streaming apps, clarify in-app purchases and more
Despite increased regulatory pressure and antitrust investigations in their business practices, both Apple and Google have modified their app store rules in recent weeks to ensure they’re clear about their right to collect in-app purchases from developers.
Meanwhile, Apple and CAF member Epic Games are engaged in a lawsuit over the Fortnite ban, as Epic chose to challenge the legality of the app store business model in the court system.
Other CAF members, including Spotify and Tile, have testified in antitrust investigations against Apple’s business practices, as well.
“Apple must be held accountable for its anticompetitive behavior. We’re committed to creating a level playing field and fair future, and we’re just getting started,” CAF said in an announcement about the new partners. It says it’s still open to new members.