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iOS developers sue Apple: ‘App Store is a monopoly’



The Supreme Court’s call on Apple and what it means for the App Store
The court’s decision deals a blow to Apple, which is leaning more on its services-related revenue.

Two iOS developers have sued Apple and are seeking class-action status for their case, alleging the company has attained monopoly power in the US market for distributing iOS apps by barring rivals. 

Apple of course only allows iOS apps to be installed on iPhones and iPads from the Apple App Store and charges developers a commission for any sales. 

The suit claims that Apple’s 30 percent cut is “overly expensive” and that its $99 annual developer fee has “cut unlawfully into” developers’ potential earnings.

SEE: Top 20 Apple keyboard shortcuts for business users (free PDF)

The developers also complain that because the App Store is the only distribution point for iOS apps, apps get “buried” among the two million other apps, stifling competition and innovation. 

“If Apple did not shut out all competition from access to iOS device owners, there would be more stores that could feature more apps, as well as stores that would specialize in certain kinds of apps,” the suit contends. 

Law firm Hagens Berman filed the lawsuit on Tuesday at the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose. The two plaintiffs are the developer of a basketball workout app and a baby-naming app. 

Another complaint is Apple’s rule that paid apps are priced at a minimum of 99 cents and that all prices end in $.99. The suit argues if it were possible to price an app below 99 cents, the developer could have captured more sales.  

In May, the US Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit filed by a handful of iPhone owners challenging Apple’s control over the App Store can pursue an antitrust lawsuit against the company. 

Apple tried to have the case dismissed because developers set the price of their own apps and therefore consumers can only sue developers.

In an interview with CBS News yesterday, Apple CEO Tim Cook denied Apple could be viewed as a monopoly when asked if Apple was “too big”. 

“No. I don’t think so. I think that with size, I think scrutiny is fair. I think we should be scrutinized. But if you look at any kind of measure about ‘Is Apple a monopoly or not?’, I don’t think anybody reasonable is going to come to the conclusion that Apple’s a monopoly. Our share is much more modest. We don’t have a dominant position in any market,” said Cook.  

SEE: IT pro’s guide to GDPR compliance (free PDF)

To support the argument that Apple’s App Store has no competition, the developer suit also cites the European Commission Android antitrust ruling, which noted that the Google Play Store for Android apps is “not constrained” by Apple’s App Store because it’s only available on iOS devices. 

“Apple admits that it shuts out all competition from app-distribution to iOS device consumers, ostensibly to protect its device customers from bad apps and malware. But this is overblown pretense,” the suit reads.  

“There is no reason to believe that other reputable vendors, including Amazon, for example, could not host an app store and provide a trustworthy app-distribution system if Apple were to open up its system to other providers.”

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Cameo buys fan merch platform Represent – TechCrunch



Celeb video site Cameo is making its first acquisition. The company will buy Represent, a marketing and merch company that helps celebrities and brands set up individualized online storefronts. It’s a natural fit for Cameo, which invites fans to pay celebrities of all stripes for short customized videos.

Represent counts Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Kendall Jenner among the members of its pool of partnered talent, so Cameo will be bringing those relationships into the fold through the acquisition.

The company is also bringing Represent’s leadership on board and the acquisition will double the size of Cameo’s team in Europe. Cameo did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Cameo says that its users won’t see changes right away, but in the future they might be able to purchase “gift bundles” that would pair a traditional Cameo video with related merch. The company also hopes that weaving merch into its revenue streams will boost the fundraising efforts that many on-platform celebrities do to raise money for nonprofits.

Most of Cameo’s users visit the celeb video site to procure gifts for friends and loved ones to celebrate birthdays and other occasions. The company said it facilitated more than 1.3 million videos last year, with the company’s top 150 figures earning north of $100,000.

The company has also added a few new products, including Cameo Calls — short one-on-one video calls with celebrities — and Fan Clubs, sort of a VIP section of the site that helps dedicated fans stay in the loop on the talent they follow.

Cameo has raised money from a number of traditional sources like Google Ventures and SoftBank, but also from celebrity investors like Snoop Dogg and Tony Hawk. In March, Cameo raised $100 million Series C, bringing the company’s valuation to upward of $1 billion.

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Internal Facebook documents highlight its moderation and misinformation issues – TechCrunch



The Facebook Papers, a vast trove of documents supplied by whistleblower Frances Haugen to a consortium of news organizations has been released. The reporting, by Reuters, Bloomberg, The Washington Post and others, paints a picture of a company that repeatedly sought to prioritize dominance and profit over user safety. This was, however, despite a large number of employees warning that the company’s focus on engagement put users at risk of real-world violence.

The Washington Post, for instance, claims that while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg played down reports that the site amplified hate speech in testimony to Congress, he was aware that the problem was far broader than publicly declared. Internal documents seen by the Post claim that the social network had removed less than five percent of hate speech, and that executives — including Zuckerberg — were well aware that Facebook was polarizing people. The claims have already been rebutted by Facebook, which says that the documents have been misrepresented.

Zuckerberg is also accused of squashing a plan to run a Spanish-language voter-registration drive in the US before the 2020 elections. He said that the plan may have appeared “partisan,” with WhatsApp staffers subsequently offering a watered-down version partnering with outside agencies. The CEO was also reportedly behind the decision not to clamp down on COVID-19 misinformation in the early stages of the pandemic as there may be a “material tradeoff with MSI [Meaningful Social Interaction — an internal Facebook metric] impact.” Facebook has refuted the claim, saying that the documents have been mischaracterized.

Reuters reported that Facebook has serially neglected a number of developing nations, allowing hate speech and extremism to flourish. That includes not hiring enough staffers who can speak the local language, appreciate the cultural context and otherwise effectively moderate. The result is that the company has unjustified faith in its automatic moderation systems which are ineffective in non-English speaking countries. Again, Facebook has refuted the accusation that it is neglecting its users in those territories.

One specific region that is singled out for concern is Myanmar, where Facebook has been held responsible for amplifying local tensions. A 2020 document suggests that the company’s automatic moderation system could not flag problematic terms in (local language) Burmese. (It should be noted that, two years previously, Facebook’s failure to properly act to prevent civil unrest in Myanmar was highlighted in a report from Business for Social Responsibility.)

Similarly, Facebook reportedly did not have the tools in place to detect hate speech in the Ethiopian languages of Oromo or Amharic. Facebook has said that it is working to expand its content moderation team and, in the last two years, has recruited Oromo, Amharic and Burmese speakers (as well as a number of other languages).

The New York Times, reports that Facebook’s internal research was well-aware that the Like and Share functions — core elements of how the platform work — had accelerated the spread of hate speech. A document, titled What Is Collateral Damage, says that Facebook’s failure to remedy these issues will see the company “actively (if not necessarily consciously) promoting these types of activities.” Facebook says that, again, these statements are based on incorrect premises, and that it would be illogical for the company to try and actively harm its users.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, has focused on the supposed collapse in Facebook’s engagement metrics. Young people, a key target market for advertisers, are spending less time on Facebook’s platform, with fewer teens opting to sign up. At the same time, the number of users may be artificially inflated in these age groups, with users choosing to create multiple accounts — “Finstas” — to separate their online personas to cater to different groups. Haugen alleges that Facebook “has misrepresented core metrics to investors and advertisers,” and that duplicate accounts are leading to “extensive fraud” against advertisers. Facebook says that it already notifies advertisers of the risk that purchases will reach duplicate accounts in its Help Center, and lists the issue in its SEC filings.

Over the weekend, Axios reported that Facebook’s Sir Nick Clegg warned that the site should expect “more bad headlines” in the coming weeks. Between the material available in the Facebook Papers, another round of Frances Haugen’s testimony in the UK later today and rumors of more whistleblowers coming forward, it’s likely that Facebook will remain in the headlines for some time.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

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5 changes social-audio apps should consider making now – TechCrunch



As social-audio apps like Clubhouse, Beams, Pludo, Racket and Quest have gained popularity in the last year, more marketers, product teams and up-and-coming competitors are beginning to explore the strategies that are making and breaking the user experience in this space.

On one side, these products were fairly straightforward when they first hit the market because content creators could simply sign up, create audio rooms or short-form podcasts, and then set a time for a broadcast. But as more and more negative user feedback bubbles to the top of internet forums, now is a good stopping point to consider just how “social” social audio should be.

We know social audio isn’t meant to imitate YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, whose user experiences are largely built around one-way communication. But if we exclude them, who should social-audio companies consider while developing their strategy?

Given my background in television and marketing, it should come as no surprise that I believe social audio needs to leverage the same strategies used by major news organizations.

Based on my experience, here are five of the easiest ways social-audio app teams can do it.

Organize for inclusion

When we think about the design of apps, the things that typically come to mind are the placement of the hamburger stack, the font types and the ease of the ability of the user to get in and out of their account.

But what we rarely think about is how the design supports or doesn’t support disabled users. A notable — and reasonable — concern that emerged last year as social audio took off was the lack of accessibility features for people with impaired sight or hearing.

Small text makes it harder for people with impaired vision to navigate the apps, and the lack of captioning makes it difficult for those who are deaf to enjoy the conversations.

If you think about it, restaurants and movie theaters typically have a way for patrons to use a different menu in Braille or larger print, or they offer captioning for audience members who need an additional layer of support to enjoy the show. Social audio app teams and designers should include accessibility checkpoints in the workflow to address these concerns early in the development road map.

In the first year, leverage journalists and hosts

Marketing social-audio apps to content creators is a great way to pull in early adopters, but it could be better to identify experienced hosts and journalists that are willing to work with your brand in its beta stage as well.

Why? Because when you’re building an app that will eventually take up a portion of the media market, credibility is king.

Content creation and credibility aren’t mutually exclusive. And vetting by experienced journalists and hosts who have experience producing live shows and moderating public feedback can improve the audience’s experience.

Not to mention, if you start with a lineup of talent that knows the ropes, you can buy yourself time on the user education offerings. By having credible figureheads lead your conversations, they will also set the tone for how creators who are onboarded after them should use the platform effectively.

Mimic big media

What do Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, ABC, NBC, CBS and the BBC all have in common? Programming.

If someone wants to know what’s coming on at 8 o’clock tonight on ABC, it’s easy for them to find out and set aside time to watch a show. With Netflix, audiences know about changes in the lineup weeks if not months in advance.

Consider having a lineup of rooms or shows that are produced by in-house talent. This way, the user audience has a reason to be on the platform even if their favorite creators are on hiatus.

Yes, some content creators are savvy enough to let their audience know when they will be back, but not all have the support of a producer or experienced team to make sure they can maintain a presence.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a big issue to the app teams, because you’re betting on the content creator to come back and bring their audience. But this is where the apps are actually losing engagement: If the creators aren’t consistent and the audience doesn’t know when to expect them back, and the user doesn’t receive suggestions to similar audio rooms or shows quickly, they lose interest and stop returning.

And later, when they are asked why they stopped using the platforms, their review is typically negative because they didn’t see the continued value.

When creators receive complaints, educate immediately

When entertainers mess up, all it takes is a few groups of people to air their concerns, and before you know it, their career takes a huge hit. Sometimes this happens because the content creator has acted maliciously, but other times it’s due to honest mistakes or sheer ignorance.

Here’s the thing: If you’re swift to remove the creator, not only does it tarnish their career, but it strips others in the community of the education needed about what to do in a similar circumstance — and how to reconcile the initial concerns privately and publicly.

Given the live nature of these platforms, these snafus are guaranteed to pop up, and for that reason, it’s a good idea to figure out how to address issues in a way that’s supportive to all involved.

The suggestion here is to either create a training program that the content creator would have to complete before they are allowed to return to the platform, or your company can partner with online or in-person training courses to educate people on topics relating to things like race, culture or social issues.

I liken it to getting a ticket for a moving violation and being required to attend traffic school. These app teams should think of a similar solution that allows creators to navigate being in the public eye and learning as they go. Not all content creators are trained as journalists. If they are targeted in the marketing, there should be a strategy to retain them as active participants on the platform, even after mistakes come up.

Launch a content council

Last but certainly not least, the moment your company goes into beta testing, it would be wise to create a content council to address any areas of sensitivity that may come up on your platform.

In the same way that startups have advisory boards, consider forming a content council with industry experts in diversity, equity and inclusion, disabilities, global affairs, politics, LGBTQIA advocacy, race, healthcare and social justice, just to name a few. This takes the pressure off of the internal employees to know how to tackle tough topics on the platform. It also provides the company with someone who is engaged with the business internally. These experts could be helpful if the platform faces any controversy around hot-button topics.

As the social-audio space continues to expand, so will the ways creators and audiences engage with the platforms. But whether that growth continues to spike through the rest of 2021, one thing is for sure, the social-audio space may be bigger than what it’s currently portraying itself to be, and as a content creator and end user, I can’t wait to see what opportunities will open up in this space.

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