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Apple and Fortnite developer Epic in dramatic fight over the iPhone

 (Epic Games)
(Epic Games)

Apple and Fortnite developer Epic are locked in a public and dramatic fight over the rules of the iPhone.

The two companies have been feuding over apps on the iPhone for years. But the latest rupture between the two is among the most dramatic, and has led regulators from the European Union to step in.

Epic has long argued that it should be able to run its own App Store on the iPhone, as it does on the Mac. Apple has always argued against that.

This week, however, Apple made updates to comply with Europe’s Digital Markets Act, which aims to limit the power of big technology companies. Those changes including allowing developers to make their own app stores, through which other apps can be distributed.

Epic said on Wednesday however that Apple had removed its developer account, leaving it unable to set up its own app store. Epic argued that Apple was in breach of the DMA in doing so, but Apple argued that Epic was not trustworthy and that it was within its rights to terminate its account.

The DMA’s sweeping set of rules, designed to stop big tech companies from cornering digital markets, have forced Apple to allow people in Europe to download iPhone apps from stores not operated by the US tech giant - a move it has long resisted.

The European Commission, the EU’s top antitrust watchdog, said in a statement on Thursday that it had “requested further explanations on this from Apple under the DMA”. The rules threaten penalties that could reach into the billions for violations.

The commission said it was “also evaluating whether Apple‘s actions raise doubts on their compliance” with other EU regulations including the Digital Services Act, a second set of regulations in the bloc’s digital rulebook that prohibit tech companies from “arbitrary application” of their terms and conditions.

Epic contended that Apple was brazenly violating the DMA by rejecting an alternative iPhone app store that it planned to set up in Sweden to serve European Union users.

It accused Apple of retaliating for scathing critiques posted by chief executive Tim Sweeney, who spearheaded a mostly unsuccessful antitrust case against the iPhone App Store in the US.

Apple said its action was justified because of Epic‘s previous unlawful actions and litigation that resulted in the US court decision in 2021.

Apple ousted Epic from its App Store after it tried to get around restrictions that Apple says protect the security and privacy of iPhone users, while also helping recoup some of the investment that powers one of the world’s most ubiquitous devices.

“Epic‘s egregious breach of its contractual obligations to Apple led courts to determine that Apple has the right to terminate ‘any or all of Epic Games’ wholly owned subsidiaries, affiliates, and/or other entities under Epic Games’ control at any time and at Apple‘s sole discretion’,” Apple said in a statement.

“In light of Epic‘s past and ongoing behaviour, Apple chose to exercise that right.”

Additional reporting by agencies