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Apple loosens App Store rules allowing developers to link to external websites

By Martyn Landi, PA Technology Correspondent

Apple is to loosen its App Store rules to allow firms such as Netflix and Spotify to include an in-app link to their own websites to enable users to sign up for and manage a paid account.

The update is part of a settlement with the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC), which was investigating the tech giant, and will be applied to apps globally from early 2022.

The change concerns so-called “reader” apps, which allow users to view previously purchased content or content subscriptions for things such as e-books, music, audio and video.

These apps do not offer in-app purchases, although some, such as Spotify, do offer a free tier of subscription to access some content, and until now users wanting to sign up for paid subscriptions within these apps had to use Apple’s payment services, from which the tech giant takes a commission.

The ability for developers to link to their own website will now mean users will be able to sign up for these services without having to use Apple’s own App Store payment system, a process that has been labelled as unfair and anti-competitive by some developers, including Spotify, in the past.

“Trust on the App Store is everything to us.

“The focus of the App Store is always to create a safe and secure experience for users, while helping them find and use great apps on the devices they love,” Apple’s Phil Schiller said of the move.

“We have great respect for the Japan Fair Trade Commission and appreciate the work we’ve done together, which will help developers of reader apps make it easier for users to set up and manage their apps and services, while protecting their privacy and maintaining their trust.”

The announcement comes in the wake of another change confirmed by the tech giant last week, where Apple said it would allow app developers to email users about alternative payment methods outside of Apple’s ecosystem.

The rule tweaks come amid a number of ongoing investigations into Apple by regulators, including the EU, over alleged anti-competitive behaviour.

The firm, along with Android owner Google, still also faces separate legal action from Fortnite maker Epic Games over claims of unfair control of payment systems.

Responding to Apple’s latest changes, which do not affect games, Epic chief executive Tim Sweeney accused Apple of trying to get around antitrust investigations.

“Apple should open up iOS on the basis of hardware, stores, payments, and services each competing individually on their merits,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Instead, they’re running a literally day-by-day recalculation of divide-and-conquer in hopes of getting away with most of their tying practices.”

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