Margethe Vestager, EC commissioner:

Today, we are opening a sixth [non-compliance case]: we will look into Apple's new business model: the commercial terms Apple imposes on app developers who want to reach end users on the iOS platform. The criteria these app developers have to meet to even be allowed to operate as alternative marketplaces or make apps available via sideloading. And the complex user journey for those users who want to download and install alternative marketplaces and sideloaded apps.

In the DMA, the ground rule is for sideloading apps to be allowed, and to only very minimally be reigned in under very specific conditions. Apple chose to take these conditions and lawyer them into "always, unless you pay us sums of money that are plainly prohibitive for most actors". Apple knew the rules and understood the intent and chose to evade them, in order to retain additional income.

In the App Store Guidelines, as written and period appropriate, the ground rule was for in-app purchases to be allowed only through the App Store's native in-app purchase system, at the penalty of removal from the App Store. Epic chose to take those conditions, break them and lawyer up. Epic knew the rules and understood the intent and chose to evade them, in order to retain additional income.

It is completely fair to look at what Epic did and say "that was kind of a dick move". (I personally think it was kind of a dick move, even as I agree with some downwind consequences.) But any argument that what Epic did was wrong and what Apple did was right hinges on distinctions that do not make sense to me. That Apple's App Store Guidelines are less of a mess of what could charitably be defined as emergent praxis than the DMA is, is a fascinating theory.

Apple seems to treat written law with roughly the same level of respect as the actions that would cause one of its developers to be violently and with prejudice ejected from all its programs. Yes, I know what you're thinking, "regulation bites corporation"; film at 11. (And yes, for that matter, "regulation fails to manifest intended outcome, free of side effects, by sheer will, in the face of a commercial marketplace".)

But Apple has a significantly easier time silently assenting to the qualms of dictatorships than to simply stop reaching into the pockets of customers, many of which have funneled tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the most consistently successful high margin product in the history of mobile telephony, or developers who have largely made those devices attractive in the first place.

What does that have to do with anything? Apple has two modes when it comes to compliance: actual compliance and fighting by lashing out. It's not clear to me that actual compliance is always the right way. Apple's prerogative is to participate in the civic discourse, and to push back. Indeed, Apple has even a larger claim than most to have actually shown backbone, wisdom and (dare I say) courage. When Apple fought the FBI order to corrode the integrity of its OS, under the mistaken (FBI) theory that a compromised system would not be compromised if the master key was in good hands, and that the mathematics of encryption cared one whit about FBI, I was appreciative of their stand.

But when Apple chooses to blithely follow along with demands from regimes that do not have free, independently verified and secret elections and are using as much data and intel as they can get to maintain a vast social credit database, all the while taking a new legal framework in the EU as an excuse to a) make a few bucks in ways completely foreign to that framework while b) denying most of the freedoms mandated by it, I worry about the standing of any argument that the reason Apple should be allowed to get its way is because of their moral purity and piety.

The best that can be said is that Apple is as aggressive as it deems allowed within the particular market. The choice of aggression compared to assent seems to have hinged on the DMA being toothless or its enforcement being hapless. Time will tell whether they were right.

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