Apple Must Let Dating Apps Offer Alternative Payment Options in the App Store, Dutch Regulator Says

Apple Must Let Dating Apps Offer Alternative Payment Options in the App Store, Dutch Regulator Says
Illustration: Chris Delmas / AFP, Getty Images

Apple’s App Store payment policy was just dealt another blow in the Netherlands, where the Authority for Consumers and Markets, or ACM, the country’s top competition regulator, determined the rules violated Dutch competition law by not allowing dating apps to offer users alternative payment options.

In a decision published on Christmas Eve, the ACM said the conditions that apply to dating app providers — which are the same applied to all developers — were unreasonable. It ordered Apple to rectify its policy and allow dating app developers to offer users other payment options — inside and outside the app. If Apple doesn’t comply with the regulator’s decision within two months, it could face a fine of up to $US56.5 ($78) million.

The ACM originally started looking into Apple’s in-app payment policy in 2019, according to Reuters, over concerns that it was abusing its dominant position in the market. The company requires developers to use its in-app payment system — prohibiting them from linking or directing users to alternative payment methods — and takes a cut of between 15% and 30% of every purchase. However, over the course of the investigation, the scope was reduced to focus on dating apps.

One of the biggest players in the dating app sector, Match Group, which owns several popular dating apps including Tinder, Plenty of Fish, and Hinge, submitted a complaint to the ACM over Apple’s App Store rules, Reuters reported. Match Group alleged that Apple’s policies were impeding its direct communication with its customers about payments.

In the announcement of the ACM decision, Martijn Snoep, the regulator’s board chairman, said that protecting people and businesses against abuse of market power in the digital economy was one of the regulator’s most important duties.

“Some app providers are dependent on Apple’s App Store, and Apple takes advantage of that dependency. Apple has special responsibilities because of its dominant position,” Snoep said in a statement. “That is why Apple needs to take seriously the interests of app providers too, and set reasonable conditions. That is what we are forcing Apple to do with this order.”

Various countries, including the U.S., have been scrutinizing Apple’s App Store payment policy as of late. In September, a new South Korean law went into effect that bans Apple and Google from requiring developers to use their in-app payment systems.

That same month, Apple announced an agreement with Japan’s competition regulator over “reader apps,” or apps that offer content subscriptions, including magazines, newspapers, books, music, and videos. Under that agreement, Apple will allow developers of these apps to include a single external link to an alternative payment option, such as their own websites.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Apple is defending its App Store payment policy in the Epic v. Apple case. The judge in that case, Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, ruled against Apple and said it would have to allow developers to use “buttons or external links” to point users to alternative payment options outside the App Store. Apple has appealed the decision and was granted a delay for compliance, meaning it doesn’t have to give developers the ability to offer alternative payment options yet.

An Apple spokesperson told Gizmodo on Sunday that the App Store is “a safe and trusted place for users” that offers a great business opportunity for all app developers. The spokesperson pushed back on the ACM’s assertion that Apple has a dominant position in the Netherlands and said the company has appealed the regulator’s decision.

“We disagree with the Order issued by the ACM and have filed an appeal,” the company’s spokesperson said in an email. “Apple does not have a dominant position in the market for software distribution in the Netherlands, has invested tremendous resources helping developers of dating apps reach customers and thrive on the App Store, and has the right under EU and Dutch law to charge developers of these apps a fee for all the services and technologies Apple provides them.”

Gizmodo reached out to Match Group on Sunday to request a comment on the ACM’s decision but did not receive a response by the time of publication. We’ll make sure to update this article if we hear back.