Tech giant Apple and Fortnite Publisher Epic Games have been duking it out in court since last year. Epic Games initially filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple after Apple removed Fortnite from its app store because Epic offered players an in-app 3rd party option to pay for their purchases. On Tuesday Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued an order ruling in favor of Epic Games.
Even though the judge agreed with Epic Games, the company did not walk away from the trial the complete victor. In fact, the judge mostly ruled in favor of Apple. Back in September the Judge ruled that Apple had not violated any antitrust laws by booting Fornite off their platform. Instead, she said that Epic Games was at fault for knowingly violating the developer agreement they had signed so that Fortnite could exist in Apple’s app store. She also refuted Epic Games’ claim that the tech behemoth has a monopoly over the mobile gaming market, by citing that mobile games in themselves don’t lock users inside of Apple’s ecosystem because mobile games exist on other platforms and in other ecosystems (even though Apple does control a large portion of the mobile gaming market).
However, whereas Judge Gonzalez Rogers largely ruled in favor of Apple, there was one claim that she agreed with Epic Games on. According to The Verge, the Judge issued an order calling for Apple to revise its anti-steering policies. Anti-steering policies, as they apply to Apple’s case, are rules put in place that prohibit app developers from steering users outside of Apple’s closed ecosystem. Essentially these rules prevent developers from interacting with users outside of Apple’s platform and also effectively bans them from being able to link to any to 3rd party sources within the architecture of their app.
The initial order put out by the Judge calling for the tech giant to revise its anti-steering guidelines was originally issued in September along with the other portions of the ruling. However, Apple recently returned to court asking for a stay on the revisions. Apple lawyers attempted to reason that “It is exceedingly complicated. There have to be guard rails and guidelines to protect children, protect developers, protect consumers, and protect Apple. They have to be written into guidelines that can be explained and enforced and applied.”
Judge Gonzalez Rogers was not having it. According to Digital Trends, In response to the request she stated “Apple…wants an open-ended stay with no requirement that it make any effort to comply…You haven’t asked for additional time. You’ve asked for an injunction which would effectively take years,” said Judge Gonzalez Rogers. She followed her observation with a ruling that will require Apple to begin allowing 3rd party links in all apps on the app store on December 9, 2021.
Apple has made it clear that they plan to appeal the judge’s order in the 9th Circuit Court and continue to maintain that they firmly believe that 3rd party in-app links could serve as a threat to its user base, citing that links to things like scams could easily be placed within an app. They have also maintained that they should not have to make any changes to the policy until all of the appeals involving its and Epic Games’ case are satisfied. A lawyer for Epic Games coyly commented that “Apple does nothing unless it is forced to do it.”
However, even though Apple doesn’t plan to take any action without a fight, they did rescind one portion of their anti-steering guidelines prior to their request for a stay. The guidelines now allow for developers to directly communicate to their patrons via email, which is something that was previously prohibited.