- In early August, Epic Games’ Fortnite was removed from Apple’s App Store after the gaming company tried to bypass Apple’s required 30% commission. The situation led to a lawsuit from Epic.
- Apple retaliated by attempting to block Epic’s Unreal Engine from being accessed by iOS developers. It also issued a countersuit and will revoke Epic Games Store users’ ability to use their Apple accounts to sign in.
- Epic Games has accused Apple of being a monopoly, saying that only allowing one app store on its devices and requiring a 30% commission is stifling competition.
- Fortnite being effectively removed from iOS means that nearly one-third of all Fortnite accounts are in limbo, which could be a major financial setback for Epic Games.
Epic Games Stirring Trouble With Apple
The battle between Apple and Epic Games reached new heights on Wednesday after Apple decided that users wouldn’t be allowed to use the “Sign In with Apple” feature to access their Epic Games account, regardless of what device they are on.
This is just the latest move in an on-going corporate feud between the tech giants that started on August 13. At that time, Epic Games tried to allow iOS users of their game Fortnite to bypass the App Store payment system and pay Epic directly, at a discounted rate.
Epic justified the discount by pointing out that Apple takes a 30% commission on all purchases through the App Store. In response to Epic Games’ move, Apple removed Fortnite from the App store. It’s widely assumed that this is what Epic wanted because it quickly released a video calling Apple a monopoly as well as a lawsuit ready to be filed.
Epic tried the same maneuver on Google’s Play Store and was similarly booted off the platform, embroiling the gaming company in another lawsuit.
Continued Escalations and Tit-for-Tats
Since Epic Games first took Apple to court, the two have further escalated tensions with accusations, countersuits, and petty retaliation.
On August 17, Apple extended its ban beyond Fortnite, targeting Epic’s Unreal Engine – a graphics engine that not only powers CGI for films and TV shows like “The Mandalorian,” but is also a cornerstone in the gaming industry. Apple told the company that unless it reversed course, Unreal Engine would also be removed by August 28. Removing its access to the App Store would mean countless iOS game developers would be left without a graphics engine for their games.
On August 24, the courts issued a series of early rulings that let both sides claim a victory. In a win for Epic Games, Apple was blocked from removing the Unreal Engine from the App Store; however, Apple was allowed to remove Epic Games’ own accounts from the App Store for a year.
Apple, for its part, thought the lawsuit and situation were ridiculous and could be easily resolved, telling The Verge, “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.”
Since then, things haven’t looked so great for Epic. The 116 million iOS users account for about one-third of all Fortnite accounts, but there’s been about a 60% decrease in iOS players since Apple blocked Epic from accessing its developer accounts.
In a September 5 court filing, Epic again asked the court to force Apple into allowing it back onto the App Store, arguing the loss of access to iOS players will do irreparable damage, writing, “Epic may never see these users again. It will also be denied the opportunity to access even a single new user among the one-billion-plus iOS users for at least the next year.”
While all that is happening, Apple upped the ante and hit Epic Games with a counter suit seeking punitive damages. The company claims that Epic trying to allow users to go around the App Store’s 30% commissions “…was little more than theft.”
Apple also says that “Epic’s lawsuit is nothing more than a basic disagreement over money. Although Epic portrays itself as a modern corporate Robin Hood, in reality it is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that simply wants to pay nothing for the tremendous value it derives from the App Store.”
The company is asking the court to force Epic to pay it all the money Epic earned from iOS users who used the option to not pay the 30% commission.
Finally, in what’s being described as a petty move by Apple, Epic Games revealed that “Apple will no longer allow users to sign into Epic Games accounts using “Sign In with Apple” as soon as September 11, 2020.”
“If you used “Sign In with Apple”, please make sure your email and password are up to date,” it added in a statement Wednesday.
This decision could affect more players than just those who use an iOS device, as many players use this feature to login into their Fortnite and Epic Games’ account across multiple devices. For those with Epic Games accounts: if you still want access to your Epic Games account after Thursday, make sure you go to your Epic account and change your info, otherwise you’ll be effectively blocked from logging in starting tomorrow.
The entire situation will likely see another big update near the end of September when lawyers from the two companies will appear back in court for their next hearing.
Google Trying to Distance Themselves
During all of this there’s also a lawsuit between Epic Games and Google that largely revolves around the same issue: Google Play requires a 30% commission, Epic says that’s way too much, tried to side step it, and lost access to its accounts.
Google, however, is trying to make sure the courts don’t apply any decisions between the Apple and Epic Games lawsuit to their situation by arguing that Android allows users to access multiple app stores and even download apps directly from developers.
That means that Epic’s argument against Apple – namely that its an alleged monopoly because apps can only be accessed through the official App Store – shouldn’t apply to the situation between Google and Epic.
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Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders
The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.
Uber Gets Fined
Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.
The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.
Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.
The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”
The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.
The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.
The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.
A Troubled Legal History
Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.
In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.
An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.
In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.
In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.
Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.
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Report Finds That Instagram Promotes Pro-Eating Disorder Content to 20 Million Users, Including Children
According to the study, even users hoping to recover were given eating disorder content because they were “still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble.”
Instagram Promotes Eating Disorder Content
Instagram promotes pro-eating disorder content to millions of its users, including children as young as nine-years-old, according to a Thursday report from the child advocacy non-profit group Fairplay.
The report, titled “Designing for Disorder: Instagram’s Pro-eating Disorder Bubble,” studied what it called an eating disorder “bubble,” which consisted of nearly 90,000 accounts that reached 20 million unique users. The average age of the bubble was 19, but researchers found users aged nine- and 10-years-old that followed three or more of these accounts. Roughly one-third of those in the bubble were underage.
According to Fairplay, Instagram’s parent company Meta derives $2 million in revenue a year from the bubble and another $228 million from those who follow it.
“In addition to being profitable, this bubble is also undeniably harmful,” the report said. “Algorithms are profiling children and teens to serve them images, memes and videos encouraging restrictive diets and extreme weight loss.”
“Meta’s pro-eating disorder bubble is not an isolated incident nor an awful accident,” it continued. “Rather it is an example of how, without appropriate checks and balances, Meta systematically puts profit ahead of young people’s safety and wellbeing.”
Researchers identified the bubble by first looking at 153 seed accounts with over 1,000 followers that posted content celebrating eating disorders. Some used phrases like “thinspiration” or other slang terms like “ana” and “mia” to refer to specific eating disorders. Others included an underweight body mass index in their bios.
Those seed accounts alone had roughly 2.3 million collective followers, 1.6 million of which were unique. Of those unique users, researchers looked at how many seed accounts each followed to determine that nearly 90,000 accounts were part of the eating disorder bubble. Those accounts totaled over 28 million followers, 20 million of which were unique.
These pages posted content ranging from memes and photos of extreme thinness to screenshots of progress on calorie counting apps. One user said they were on their third day of eating just 300 calories.
Others, including children under the age of 13, put their current weights and goal weights in their account bios. Some wrote that they “hate food” or were “starving for perfection.”
Content’s Impact on Children
Fairplay claimed that many of those in the bubble wanted to recover but were essentially trapped in Instagram’s algorithm.
“Many of the biographies of users in the bubble talk about wanting to or being in recovery, wanting to get ‘better’, to ‘heal’ or being aware of how unwell they were,” the report said. “However, these users are still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble. They will still be feeding content from other accounts in the bubble, including the seed accounts, that normalizes, glamorizes or promotes eating disorders.”
The report also showcased the firsthand account of a 17-year-old eating disorder survivor and activist identified as Kelsey. Kelsey wrote that it was impossible to “imagine a time when the app didn’t have the sort of content that promotes disordered eating behavior.”
“I felt like my feed was always pushed towards this sort of content from the moment I opened my account,” Kelsey continued.
“That type of content at one point even got so normalized that prominent figures such as the Kardashians and other female and male influencers were openly promoting weight loss supplements and diet suppressors in order to help lose weight.”
Kelsey said Instagram delivered that content without any relevant searches, but posts about body positivity needed to be actively sought out.
The report concluded by arguing that there needs to be legislation that regulates platforms like Instagram by requiring them to prioritize user safety, particularly for children.
Meta and Instagram have long been accused of disregarding child safety. Last year, a whistleblower unveiled documents that revealed the company knew of the harm it posed to young people, specifically regarding body image. A Meta spokesperson told The Hill that they were unable to address the most recent allegations in Fairplay’s report.
“We’re not able to fully address this report because the authors declined to share it with us, but reports like this often misunderstand that completely removing content related to peoples’ journeys with or recovery from eating disorders can exacerbate difficult moments and cut people off from community,” the spokesperson said.
Etsy Sellers Strike Amid Increased Transaction Fees and Mandatory Offsite Advertising
“What began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople,” an Etsy seller wrote in a petition.
Thousands of Etsy Sellers Shut Down Shops
Roughly 15,000 Etsy sellers are closing up their online shops starting Monday in protest of several grievances they have with the platform, including a new fee increase.
Starting on Monday, transaction fees are getting boosted from 5% to 6.5% on the platform. CEO Josh Silverman sent a memo claiming that this hike will allow the company to “make significant investments in marketing, seller tools, and creating a world-class customer experience,” but sellers have been frustrated by the change.
“Etsy’s last fee increase was in July 2018. If this new one goes through, our basic fees to use the platform will have more than doubled in less than four years,” seller Kristi Cassidy wrote in a petition calling for a strike. As of Monday morning, over 50,000 Etsy sellers, customers, and employees had signed the petition.
“These basic fees do not include additional fees for Offsite ads – which started during the first wave of the pandemic,” Cassidy continued.
Offsite ads allow Etsy to advertise sellers’ products on other websites like Google. Sellers who make over $10,000 a year reportedly have no way of opting out of the program and Etsy takes at least 12% of sales generated through the promotions.
“Etsy fees are an unpredictable expense that can take more than 20% of each transaction,” Cassidy wrote. “We have no control over how these ads are administered, or how much of our money is spent.”
Etsy became a pandemic success story as online shopping rose amid lockdowns. Many turned to the platform to purchase masks and other goods, prompting its stock, sales, and number of sellers to rise.
“It’s really obnoxious to tell us sellers, ‘Hey, we made record profits last year and we’re gonna celebrate by raising your fees a whole bunch,’” Bella Stander, a maps and guidebooks publisher who sells on Etsy, told the Wall Street Journal.
What Etsy Sellers Are Demanding
Currently, there are over five million sellers on Etsy. Cassidy hopes that if enough of them unite, the company will have to respond.
“As individual crafters, makers and small businesspeople, we may be easy for a giant corporation like Etsy to take advantage of,” she wrote. “But as an organized front of people, determined to use our diverse skills and boundless creativity to win ourselves a fairer deal, Etsy won’t have such an easy time shoving us around.”
In the petition’s list of demands, it asks that Etsy cancel the transaction fee increase, allow sellers to opt out of offsite ads, and provide a transparent plan to crack down on resellers who take up space on the platform.
It also demanded that Etsy end its “Star Seller Program,” which impacts how sellers can interact with their buyers.
“Etsy was founded with a vision of ‘keeping commerce human’ by ‘democratizing access to entrepreneurship.’ As a result, people who have been marginalized in traditional retail economies — women, people of color, LGBTQ people, neurodivergent people, etc. — make up a significant proportion of Etsy’s sellers,” Cassidy wrote.
“But as Etsy has strayed further and further from its founding vision over the years, what began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople.”
In a statement to Yahoo Finance, an Etsy spokesperson claimed that sellers were the company’s “top priority.”
“We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to providing great value for our 5.3 million sellers so they are able to grow their businesses while keeping Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace.”
The strike was a trending topic on Twitter Monday morning. Many sellers took to the social media site to pledge their support to the movement.
Many sellers are urging buyers to refrain from using the site for the remainder of the week, which is how long the protest is currently scheduled to last.