- 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.
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.
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.
Robinhood Crypto Trading Crashes Twice as Dogecoin Multiplies in Value, Enraging Users
- Robinhood users found themselves unable to buy or sell cryptocurrency Thursday night, an issue reminiscent of the app’s decision to restrict GameStop trades earlier this year.
- While Robinhood resolved the problem within a matter of hours, it came amid a massive rally on Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that started out as a joke. The app’s crypto services briefly went down again Friday morning as the rally continued.
- Robinhood has denied that its crypto trading outages were an intentional effort to drive down Dogecoin prices and instead blamed the outages on “unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services.”
- By Friday morning, Dogecoin briefly soared to $0.45, more than 400% of the value it had at the beginning of the week and more than 4,500% of the value it had at the beginning of the year.
Robinhood Crashes Amid Dogecoin Rally
The joke cryptocurrency Dogecoin has surged more than 400% this week alone, but around 10 p.m. EST Thursday night, the free-to-trade app Robinhood tweeted that it was “experiencing issues with crypto trading.” In turn, that caused many of the app’s users to find themselves unable to execute trades.
Dogecoin first began to spike Tuesday ahead of the market debut of the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which raised $86 billion in its first day of trading. That morning, one Dogecoin amounted to about $0.07. By midnight, it had doubled in value. Those gains continued Thursday evening when Dogecoin spiked to around $0.33.
That may not seem like much, but if a person invested $1,000 in Dogecoin when it was selling for around $0.01 at the beginning of the year, by Thursday evening, that person would be sitting on a small fortune of around $33,000 before taxes.
Robinhood Users Angry Yet Again
Many Robinhood users found themselves frustrated when they were unable to sell off their existing dogecoins, especially since the cryptocurrency’s value was rapidly falling.
In fact, within the matter of just over an hour, it had dipped to around $0.25. Using the last example above, that would mean thousands of dollars of missed opportunity.
“Are you going to cover my account?!?” one user asked Robinhood when she found herself unable to sell her dogecoins. “This is a technical error, not my own risk. Ive been trying to execute this transaction for almost two hours! None of my crypto comes up!”
Are you going to cover my account?!? This is a technical error, not my own risk. Ive been trying to execute this transaction for almost two hours!— JT (@JenninNYC) April 16, 2021
None of my crypto comes up! pic.twitter.com/rZ4qoXostn
This is not Robinhood’s only bout with controversy. Earlier this year, the company infamously blocked its users from buying GameStop stock during a frenzy that sent shares from under $20 to nearly $500 at one point; however, Robinhood still allowed users to sell their existing shares — a move that even if it lacked the intention, had the effect of attempting to drive share prices for GameStop down.
Though CEO Vlad Tenev later argued that the company “had no choice” but to restrict buying, Robinhood’s decision nonetheless sparked the ire of its users and even prompted Congressional investigations.
Many Robinhood users were quick to point that out Thursday when they once again found themselves unable to execute trades. Some even accused the company of more nefarious intentions.
Service Restored… Until It Went Down Again
At 11:46 p.m. Thursday night, Robinhood tweeted that crypto trading had been “fully” restored.
“Like others, we were experiencing unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services, which created issues with crypto trading,” the company said. “We’ve resolved the issue and apologize for the inconvenience.
Multiple times since Thursday evening, the company has denied that it intentionally halted crypto trading to affect Dogecoin prices.
“Unprecedented demand for Robinhood Crypto services created temporary issues with crypto trading,” a Robinhood spokesperson told the New York Post Friday. “That’s it, plain and simple.”
On Friday morning, Dogecoin went on to spike at a current 52-week high of $0.45; however, it soon dipped back into the mid- to upper-thirty-cent range, where it remained around 3 p.m. EST.
Meanwhile, amid the surging demand, Robinhood experienced yet another crypto outage around 10:30 a.m. EST Friday. Just before 11 a.m., it said that trading had been restored for most customers.
See what others are saying: (New York Post) (Business Insider) (Coindesk)
Child Safety Advocates Urge Facebook To Scrap Plans for Instagram Kids
- Nearly 100 child safety experts and international organizations sent a letter to Facebook Thursday criticizing its plans to develop an Instagram app for children under 13.
- Facebook claims the app will offer parental controls and is meant to create a safer space for kids, who are often lying about their age to access the normal version of Instagram.
- Still, critics point out that children already on Instagram are unlikely to switch to a kids version. Many also cited concerns about screen time, mental health, and privacy, arguing that younger children are not ready for such a platform.
- U.S. Lawmakers expressed similar concerns earlier this month, saying, “Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”
Instagram for Kids
An international group of 35 organizations and 64 experts, coordinated by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, released a letter Thursday urging Facebook to abandon its plans to release an Instagram app for kids under 13-years old.
Plans for Instagram Kids have been public for about a month after Buzzfeed News obtained emails about the app in mid-March. Since then, there have been widespread concerns about how such an app could affect children.
Thursday’s letter argues that a version of Instagram targeting under-13-year-olds raises concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health, self-esteem, and commercial pressure. Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company understands the concerns presented by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it,” she said.
“The reality is that kids are online. They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate. We also want to find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps,” Otway added, noting the reality of how many children interact with age-gated apps.
Unlikely To Stop Children From Joining Regular Instagram
The idea that children would just switch to Instagram Kids received pushback from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In fact, the group’s executive director, Josh Golin, pointed out that most kids who are currently on Instagram are between 10 and 12-years-old, and they likely wouldn’t migrate over to Instagram Kids because it will be perceived as “babyish and not cool enough.”
”The children this will appeal to will be much younger kids,” Golin explained. “So they are not swapping out an unsafe version of Instagram for a safer version. They are creating new demand from a new audience that’s not ready for any type of Instagram product.”
It’s unknown exactly how the app would work, but it would feature content similar to what is allowed in other age-appropriate apps, such as YouTube Kids. One of the few details given out so far is that Instagram Kids will be ad-free and feature parental control options.
Concerns over Instagram Kids has also come from lawmakers. On April 5th Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), alongside Representatives Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns that “children are a uniquely vulnerable population online, and images of kids are highly sensitive data.”
“Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”
See what others are saying: (TechCrunch) (BBC) (NBC News)
Retail Sales Jump Amid Stimulus Spending, Unemployment Claims Plunge To Pandemic Low
- The Commerce Department released a report Thursday recording a 9.8% spike in retail sales for the month of March.
- That surge was largely driven by stimulus check spending, with restaurant, sporting goods, clothing and accessory, and auto sales all being among the top-performing sectors in retail for the month.
- Coupled with that news, the Labor Department reported that 576,000 unemployment claims were filed last month — a pandemic low.
- That figure is still significantly higher than the roughly 200,000 weekly unemployment claims filed before the pandemic.
Retail Sales Spike
U.S. retail sales for the month of March jumped 9.8% from February, according to a Thursday morning report from the Commerce Department.
That spike is largely thanks to the most recent round of stimulus checks from Congress.
March was the best month of retail spending since May of last year, which at the time saw an 18.3% gain following the first wave of stimulus checks.
Sales in the bar and restaurant industry rose 13.4%, making them among the retail sectors that saw the biggest spikes last month. That’s largely a result of relaxed lockdowns stemming from the country’s current pace of around three million vaccinations a day. Meanwhile, sporting goods spending rose 23.5%, clothing and accessory sales rose 18.3%, and motor vehicle parts and dealer sales rose 15.1%.
“Spending will almost certainly drop back in April as some of the stimulus boost wears off,” wrote Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, “but with the vaccination rollout proceeding at a rapid pace and households finances in strong shape, we expect overall consumption growth to continue rebounding rapidly in the second quarter too.”
Unemployment Hits Pandemic Low
The retail sales data came around the same time that the Labor Department released this past week’s unemployment figures, which dropped to a new pandemic low of 576,000 claims.
That’s a massive difference from almost exactly a year ago when 6 million people filed for unemployment in a single week. It’s also a significant decline from the 769,000 people that filed jobless claims last week, especially since some analysts had predicted there would be around 700,000 jobs lost with this week’s report.
That said, unemployment claims are still much higher than the around 200,000 a week that were being filed prior to pandemic closures.
“You’re still not popping champagne corks,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said according to The New York Times. “I will breathe again — and breathe easy again — once we get these number[s] back down in the 200,000 range.”