By Sam Schechner 

The U.K. is investigating Apple Inc.'s treatment of app developers that offer their wares on the company's App Store, adding a new front to antitrust complaints against the iPhone maker.

The Competition and Markets Authority, the U.K.'s antitrust regulator, said Thursday that it has opened an investigation into whether Apple imposes unfair or anticompetitive conditions on app developers, including requirements that some types of apps use Apple's in-app payment system, from which Apple can take commissions of up to 30%.

The authority said it opened the investigation following complaints from developers about some of Apple's terms, such as the requirement that all apps on iPhones and iPads must be distributed through Apple's store. The authority said it would conduct its initial investigation through September, and no decision has been made about whether the company broke any laws.

Andrea Coscelli, the regulator's chief executive, said special scrutiny is warranted for "complaints that Apple is using its market position to set terms which are unfair or may restrict competition and choice -- potentially causing customers to lose out when buying and using apps."

Apple said Thursday that it will work with the CMA, and defended the requirements it places on app developers when submitting apps, saying they are "applied fairly and equally to all developers" and are necessary "to protect customers from malware and to prevent rampant data collection without their consent."

The U.K.'s new investigation covers similar ground to a set of probes that the European Union opened into Apple's App Store policies last June, while the U.K. was still transitioning out of the bloc. The EU case could involve some of Apple's conduct in the U.K. through the end of 2020, and the CMA on Thursday said that it is coordinating its investigation with the European Commission, the EU's top competition enforcer, as well as with other antitrust agencies around the world.

Apple has said the complaints in the EU cases are baseless.

At the core of the antitrust concerns is how much control and share of revenue technology giants should have in relation to popular apps. The EU cases into Apple stem from multiple complaints filed by app developers, including Spotify Technology SA, over its treatment of app developers, alleging that the company has tried to stifle competition.

"Fortnite" game developer Epic Games Inc. has made similar claims, filing lawsuits against Apple in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, and submitting an antitrust complaint against Apple last month at the European Commission.

Arizona's House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill Wednesday that would restrict operators of large software application marketplaces from requiring developers to exclusively use their payment processing systems for in-app purchases. The measure, which would also empower the state attorney general to investigate complaints for alleged violations of the law, still has to be approved by the state senate before it heads to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey's desk.

Though Apple and Google have panned the legislation, it has received support from independent developers as well as the , a nonprofit alliance of developers formed last year to push for changes to app-marketplace rules.

--Coalition for App Fairness

The CMA on Thursday declined to name the companies that had complained to it in the U.K.

Write to Sam Schechner at sam.schechner@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 04, 2021 11:16 ET (16:16 GMT)

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