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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Irwin

European regulators are gearing up to force open Apple's walled garden

Legislation reportedly set to be finalized this month could force Apple to allow sideloading apps from third parties.


Apple for years has been staring down what it considers an existential threat: sideloading apps. App developers want the ability to offer their apps outside of the iOS App Store, and Apple absolutely does not want that to happen. The EU might force the issue as part of its Big Tech antitrust crackdown.

The EU is reportedly readying a new anticompetition law that would force Apple to allow users to download iPhone apps outside of the App Store, a practice called sideloading. This would enable developers to implement their own payment systems, bypassing the commission Apple usually takes from sales of apps, in-app subscriptions and in-app purchases. That cut can be as much as 30%. The new legislation could completed as soon as this month, sources told the Wall Street Journal.

Apple opposes the Digital Markets Act. The company maintains that sideloading would make iPhone users vulnerable to security and privacy risks. Apple vets each app before allowing it into the App Store, and has said that sideloading would disrupt the "trusted ecosystem" the company has created. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal about the DMA, Apple said: “Governments and international agencies world-wide have explicitly advised against sideloading requirements, which would cripple the privacy and security protections that users have come to expect." On its part, the EU doesn't seem to think Apple's argument holds water. Google allows sideloading apps on Android, and while that does bring with it a higher risk of malware and other security issues, sideloading isn't a common practice and most users get their apps from the Google Play store. EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager has previously dismissed Apple's concerns, saying last year that "customers will not give up neither security nor privacy if they use another app store or if they sideload."

It's worth noting that users have always been able to download Mac apps outside of the company's Mac App Store.

Apple has faced increasing pressure from European regulators. First, Epic Games brought an antitrust complaint to the EU to remove the 30% cut Apple was taking on in-app purchases. Then the European commission charged Apple in April 2021 for anti-competitive practices due to the commission it takes from rival music streaming apps in the App Store. Apple Music, which comes installed by default on iPhones, is obviously not subject to any fees. And the EU went after Apple Pay toward the end of last year for being the only payment method compatible with iPhone's NFC chip for tap-and-go payments.

These pieces of legislation, combined with the EU’s new laws dictating how platforms moderate content and its backing of antitrust laws targeting Apple in individual European countries, have put Apple's business practices under the microscope. The company faces similar App Store legislation in the U.S. Apple is currently appealing a ruling in the Epic Games case that would force it to allow developers to link to alternative payment methods in their iOS apps.

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