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Epic Games’ Ongoing Legal Battle With Apple and Google, Explained

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  • Epic Games, Apple, and Google have been engaging in their own battle royale to see if the tech giants are indeed monopolies.
  • Epic Games claims that both companies, through their associated app stores, restrict what users can access and force fees that amount to an unnecessary tax.
  • Additionally, Epic Games accuses the platforms of forcing this to be the case by not allowing, or heavily restricting, how apps can be accessed outside of the approved play stores.
  • Apple and Google both claim that the stores are for user data safety, and that their pricing models are in-line with industry standards.

Epic Games announced on August 17 that Apple has threatened to block access to developer tools, increasing the stakes of Epic Games’ recent decision to sue Apple.

The situation started last week, when Epic Games, the creator of the popular game Fortnite, was booted off the App Store for not paying Apple its 30% cut on in-App purchases within the Fortnite app. In response, Fortnite released a video that riffed on an old Apple ad and suggested the company was leading society to an Orwellian future.

This video coincided with Epic Games serving Apple an antitrust lawsuit. Almost right after all of this happened, Apple received an unexpected ally; Google. The other tech giant decided to also remove Fortnite from the Google Play story for essentially the same reason, leading Epic Games to file a lawsuit against it as well.

Past Criticisms

For longtime observers of the situation, none of this is particularly surprising. Tim Sweeny, the CEO of Epic Games, has been extremely vocal about his distaste for both Apple and Android. In fact, in response to a June 2020 change to the App Stores policies, he wrote on Twitter, “Here Apple speaks of a level playing field. To me, this means: All iOS developers are free to process payments directly, all users are free to install software from any source.”

However, the largest criticism from the CEO has been about the possible monopolies Apple and Google have with their app distribution platforms, and how that allows them to force developers to pay exuberant fees.

The fees cover 30% of both the purchasing of apps and in-app purchases. Sweeny says that having other app distribution platforms would mean that users could receive a substantial savings. To this effect, Epic Games put out a statement between suing Apple and Google that said, “Epic believes that you have a right to save money thanks to using more efficient, new purchase options. Apple’s rules add a 30% tax on all of your purchases, and they punish game developers like us who offer direct payment options.”

Lawsuit Arguments and Issues

In their various lawsuits, Epic Games lays out the same arguments, saying that the restrictive nature of the app stores means that Google and Apple arguably have monopolies. Yet, in the case of Google, Epic might face the argument that Google Play technically isn’t the only app store or way to get apps on Android.

Other app stores do exist, with the largest competitor being the Galaxy Store for Samsung Devices. Additionally, users can download apps directly from developers, something Epic Games offers on their Fortnite App.

It could be noted that Google Play is such a big platform and so heavily promoted on Android that most users don’t even realize there are other ways to get apps. Additionally, Google gives their store other advantages, like rolling out updates that restrict what type of location data can be accessed by non-Google Play apps, although there hasn’t been any limitations on in-app payments for those apps.

However the arguments against monopolization of the app ecosystem holds more water against Apple. The company’s platforms are a notoriously closed ecosystem, which is why Epic Games had originally focused their criticisms and efforts on Apple.

Easy Fix, Just Concede

For their parts, both Apple and Google have told various outlets that they want to work with Epic Games to have them on their app stores, but neither seem willing to concede on their guidelines, including the 30% cut. For example, Apple told The Verge that “The problem Epic has created for itself is one that can easily be remedied if they submit an update of their app that reverts it to comply with the guidelines they agreed to and which apply to all developers.”

Google largely has the same argument: that these rules are equally enforced on everyone and that Epic Games won’t get an exception. Regarding why the guidelines are even necessary, both companies have similar justifications.

The companies argue that by requiring apps to be on their app stores allows for a safer and cleaner experience for the user, additionally that having the same rules for everyone means that no one can claim they were treated unfairly.

However, that still leaves the elephant in the room and the big issue for everyone involved: the 30% commission, something that Apple and Google aren’t unique in having. Apple commissioned a study that found the 30% price tag is nearly ubiquitous among Apple and its peers. Notably a direct competitor to Epic Games, Steam, also charges 30%.

Notably though, Epic Games only charges a 12% fee for games on its platforms.

Epic Games isn’t alone in their frustration over the imposed prices. One of the biggest app developers out there, Tinder, has been extremely vocal about the issue, while Spotify launched a complaint with the European Commission about the fee.

The EU launched two investigations into the matter and have said:“It appears that Apple obtained a ‘gatekeeper’ role when it comes to the distribution of apps and content to users of Apple’s popular devices. We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books.”

In the U.S., lawmakers have increasingly applied pressure within the last year for both companies to explain the 30% cut.

Apple’s Retort

This situation has culminated in Apple’s threat to restrict Epic Games from accessing Apple Developer Tools. Epic Games claims they were told they until August 28 to fix the issues their apps had with the App Store or face losing their developer tools access.

Apple didn’t just cite the issue of cutting Apple out of their 30% fee. It also said Epic’s update descriptions were too vague. Either way, this could be a massive problem for Epic because without access to the developers tools, they’re barred from working on anything that goes onto the App Store.

Obviously that means no more Fortnite for iOS or Mac users, but that’s hardly the only thing Epic does on the App Store. The biggest casualty will be the Unreal Engine.

Gamers will recognize that name, but it’s one of the most accessible ways for developers to make games, and Epic owns it. The engine is used for more than just video games, but even film and television projects like “The Mandalorian” use it. It’s a mainstay in the entertainment industry.

No access to developer tools means no more updates for the Unreal Engine, and that means developers who rely on the Unreal Engine will be stuck using the same version, or possibly not even allowed to use the Engine at all on iOS and Mac devices.

This has put Epic in a hard spot, and so they went to the courts again. This time they’re asking for an injunction against Apple’s recent move, writing, “Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business.”

The company also added that without an injunction, there would be irreparable harm to itself, the Unreal Engine, and Fortnite.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Forbes) (The Verge)

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New York Times Staff Stage First Major Walkout in 40 Years

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Executives recently projected total adjusted operating profits of up to $330 million by the end of the year, and many workers want a bigger cut of that success.


Over 1,100 Workers Go on Strike

More than 1,100 New York Times employees staged a 24-hour walkout Thursday, the first major work stoppage at the paper in over 40 years.

The union, which is part of the News Guild of New York and claims around 1,400 members, set a contract deadline last week for midnight Dec. 8.

“Today we were ready to work for as long as it took to reach a fair deal, but management walked away from the table with five hours to go,” the union tweeted Wednesday.

“It is disappointing that they are taking such an extreme action when we are not at an impass,” the company said in a statement.

The striking employees include journalists, ad sales workers, designers, news assistants, comment moderators, and security guards. They have wrangled with management for months over pensions, health benefits, remote work requirements, and above all pay.

While the union demanded a 5.5% pay raise in 2023 and 2024, the company countered with a 3% increase, according to The Times.

The parties are also at odds over minimum starting salaries, which the union wants to set at $65,000, and retrospective bonuses for the period since the last contract expired in March 2021.

The Times’ executive editor Joseph Kahn said in an email to staff obtained by Axios that the company “will produce a robust report on Thursday,” but said “it will be harder than usual.”

Media Industry Rocked by Financial Difficulties and Labor Unrest

Several media companies have laid off hundreds of employees in recent weeks due to financial challenges, including CNN, Buzzfeed, and Gannett, but The New York Times is widely considered to be exceptionally successful.

In their latest earnings call, executives projected a total adjusted operating profit of up to $330 million by the end of the year.

Many employees of the outlet argue that they deserve a bigger share of those profits, pointing out that much of it goes toward executive compensation, share buybacks, and dividends.

Thursday’s strike came amid a wave of labor unrest this year at big brands like Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple, as well as other smaller news outlets.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette are currently on open-ended strikes.

On Nov. 4, over 200 union journalists across 14 Gannett-owned news outlets including the Desert Sun in California and New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press participated in a one-day strike.

In August, nearly 300 Reuters journalists in the United States, also represented by the NewsGuild of New York, staged a 24-hour strike as the union negotiates with the company for a new three-year contract.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Reuters)

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Tech Ethicist Tristan Harris Talks Council For Responsible Social Media, TikTok, Twitter, and More

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Harris is part of a bipartisan group that is aiming to reform social media for good.


The Council For Responsible Social Media 

Tristan Harris, the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, understands why many people view TikTok as a harmless app with jokes and dances. Harris, however, sees the Chinese-owned platform as a national security risk. 

“During the Cold War, would you have allowed the Soviet Union to control television programming for the entire western world, including Saturday morning cartoons, the ‘Teletubbies’ and ‘Sesame Street?’” he said during an interview with Rogue Rocket. 

That’s what he argues is happening with TikTok. The app, which is the most downloaded in the world, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Harris says we are “effectively outsourcing our media environment to, in the case of the United States, the number one geopolitical competitor.”

National security issues with TikTok, the extreme polarization caused by Facebook and Twitter, and a slew of other issues are among the reasons Harris and several other bipartisan leaders formed The Council For Responsible Social Media last month. 

Co-Chaired by former congressman Dick Gephardt and former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts Kerry Healey, the group was made in partnership with the nonprofit IssueOne. Other members include Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, former Sen. Claire McCaskill, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Harris. 

It aims to pressure tech companies and politicians to make social media less harmful in every facet. 

“What are the wins we can get on the scoreboard?” Harris explained. “Things like, frankly, banning TikTok or otherwise forcing a total sale of TikTok?…Can we do things like pass the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act?” 

The TikTok Problem

When it comes to TikTok, the idea of banning it is not new. Former president Donald Trump attempted to do so in 2020, and earlier this month, a Federal Communications Commission official urged the U.S. to do away with it. 

In Harris’ eyes, the threat posed by TikTok looms much larger than just mindless entertainment.

“When we outsource our media environment to a CCP-controlled company, we are effectively outsourcing our voting machine to the CCP,” Harris said. “How do you know who to vote for? Why is it that you know more about Marjorie Taylor Greene and [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] than the other hundreds of members of Congress? Because the attention economy rewards certain people to rise to the top.”

Social media apps, TikTok included, favor people that are more likely to be divisive, on either end of the political spectrum. Harris referred to this as “amplifiganda,” something the CCP can use to interfere with another nation’s political and cultural happenings. 

“It’s strategically amplifying who are the voices I want to hear from and who are the voices I don’t want to hear from,” he added. “Without firing a single shot, without creating a single piece of new propaganda, I can simply amplify the politicians and videos that I want you to be seeing.”

In China, domestic users receive what Harris calls the “spinach” version of the app, that largely includes educational content, science experiments, and patriotism videos. He says it is very different from the scroll-for-hours version the U.S. and other international markets receive.

Harris, however, does not think this was part of “a deliberate plan” or that there’s a “large mustache that’s being twirled somewhere in China.” Rather, this is just an after-the-fact consequence of TikTok succeeding at being highly addictive, and China simply regulating it for itself.

Banning the app is not the only solution, Harris noted. Officials could also attempt to force a purchase of TikTok. A similar case happened in the past with Grindr. After a U.S. foreign investment commission said the app’s Chinese ownership was a security risk, the dating app was sold to a U.S.-based group.

“And now it’s not that the company is partially in China or partially in the U.S., or the data is on an American server while the design decisions are made in Bejing, it’s not like that,” Harris explained. “They forced the entire sale.” 

“Anything less than that with TikTok would be insufficient.”

Legislative Action

Despite the numerous issues posed by nearly every social media platform, enacting meaningful change will be no small feat. The Council For Responsible Social Media has outlined several steps it plans on taking, including awareness campaigns and hearings that could inspire action. 

On the legislative front, this could involve the passage of the aforementioned Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, which was introduced by bipartisan senators last year and would “require social media companies to provide vetted, independent researchers and the public with access to certain platform data.”

Harris does not think this bill is a cure-all, he does think it should be a no-brainer for politicians to pass. 

“It won’t change the DNA of the cancer cell that is social media, it’ll be more like the cancer cell is printing quarterly reports about what it is doing to society, but that’s still a better world than having a cancer cell where you don’t know what it’s doing,” he said. 

Many advocates believe transparency is key when it comes to reforming social media, as it educates the general public about what these apps are really doing. 

The Future of Twitter

Harris thinks education about social media has inadvertently grown over the last several weeks as billionaire Elon Musk took over Twitter. The process has proven to be quite chaotic, but it has also forced people to learn about Twitter’s problems.

“Twitter has already been a chaos-making, inflammation-for-profit machine. Elon buying Twitter doesn’t change that, he’s just running the inflammation-for-profit machine,” Harris said. 

Musk’s acquisition has created a substantial financial bind and forced the mogul into a position where he has to turn engagement and revenue up. This has involved cutbacks on content moderation and laying off staff that worked on trust and safety.

“He has to figure out a way to lower costs and increase revenue, which unfortunately basically moves the whole system into a more and more dangerous direction,” Harris claimed, though he did say he does not view this as a character flaw on Musk’s part, rather just the reality of how these apps operate. 

When it comes to fixing the root problems at Twitter, Harris thinks Musk has his eyes on the wrong target by focusing on censorship and free speech. 

It has to do with Twitter being a bad video game in which citizens earn or score the most points by adding inflammation to cultural fault lines,” he explained.  

“If we’re playing a video game, and you earn the most points by finding a new cultural war faultline and inflaming it better than some other guy, you’re an inflammation entrepreneur,” he continued. “Turning citizens into inflammation entrepreneurs for profit is how we destroy democracies.” 

Harris said that if Musk wants to change Twitter for the better, he has to “change the video game of what Twitter is” so that people are not rewarded for inflammation, but for consensus. 

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Meta Fined $24.7 Million for Campaign Finance Violations As Profits Fall 50%

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A judge found the company violated Washington State’s campaign finance law more than 800 times since 2020 despite having previously settled a lawsuit for identical violations in 2018.


Judge Fines Facebook

A judge in Washington state slapped Meta with a $24.7 million fine on Wednesday after finding it had intentionally violated the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws.

In a statement, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson described the judgment as “the largest campaign finance penalty anywhere in the country — ever.”

According to the judge, Meta violated Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act 822 times. Each count carries a maximum fine of $30,000. 

The law, which was passed in 1972, requires entities that sell political ads to make certain information public, including the names and addresses of ad buyers, the targets of the ads, how the ads were financed, and the total number of views. While TV stations and newspapers have followed this law for decades in Washington, Meta has continually refused to comply with the law, even arguing unsuccessfully in court that the act is unconstitutional because it “unduly burdens political speech” and is “virtually impossible to fully comply with.”

The matter has been a long, ongoing battle for Meta. In 2018, when Meta was still Facebook, Ferguson sued the platform for violating the same law. As part of a settlement, the social media network agreed to pay $238,000 and commit to transparency in political advertising.

At the time, Facebook said it would rather stop selling ads in Washington state than adhere to the law, but it continued to sell ads while also still refusing to comply. Ferguson responded by filing another suit in 2020, which resulted in the Wednesday ruling.

Meta’s Financial Woes

Although $24.7 million may seem like pocket change to a multi-billion dollar corporation, the fines come as Meta is facing unprecedented financial troubles.

Also on Wednesday, the company reported a 50% drop in profits for the third quarter of 2022. The decline follows a recent trend as Meta’s earnings continue to suffer from slowing ad sales, fierce competition from platforms like TikTok, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to spend massive amounts of money on developing the metaverse.

In July, the tech giant posted its first-ever sales decline since becoming a public company. Meta’s stock has also nose-dived over 60% this year. The market reacted poorly to the reported drop in profits Wednesday, sending the stock down nearly 20%.

Despite the fact that the past year has been one of the worse ever for the business following Zuckerberg’s decision to rebrand as Meta and go all-in with the metaverse, his commitment remains fervent.

According to reports, during a call with analysts Wednesday, the CEO argued that people would “look back decades from now” and “talk about the importance of the work that was done here” in regards to the metaverse and virtual reality.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (Axios) (The New York Times)

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