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Apple under fire for how it handles Roblox in DOJ antitrust probe

Apple's dealings with developers like Roblox are at the core of the Department of Justice's antitrust probe, with what was discovered in the App Store lawsuit with Epic Games resurfacing.

The U.S. government has been looking into Apple and other tech companies for potential antitrust violations, with many elements becoming a target to regulators. In the latest salvo, it seems that the Department of Justice has taken an interest in Roblox.

As part of Epic Games' legal activity against Apple in a bid to change App Store policies and to enable Epic to operate its own third-party app store, Roblox was raised as an app that seemed to be given preferential treatment from Apple. Its mention, and the reasons behind it, are apparently worth closer scrutiny by the government, according to The Information.

During the trial, Roblox was said by Epic to be given an effective free pass when it comes to existing in the App Store. Epic argued that since Roblox allowed users to create games and sell them within the app using in-game currency, it was practically acting as a limited app marketplace, going against Apple's rules over digital app storefronts.

Epic reasoned that since Roblox offers game-like experiences, it too should be allowed to open a game store.

Apple said that Roblox didn't violate App Store rules as "there's experiences within Roblox that from a point of review [Apple] would not look at as a game." Following that distinction, Roblox updated its website to remove the word "game" and rebrand it as an "experience."

The DoJ has apparently been looking into the matter, including asking Roblox about the difference between what constitutes a game and an experience, as well as Roblox's decision behind its change in website wording. Other developers have also been asked about the impact of Apple Arcade, as well as if they have experienced issues with App Store rules.

If the DoJ can prove that Apple is selective in its enforcement of its own rules in order to cause problems for potential rival companies, the findings may aid in supporting a broader antitrust case against Apple.

While Epic and Roblox has caught the DoJ's attention, they aren't the only ones to complain about Apple's application of its rules.

For example, in allowing the purchases of real-world goods and services but charging for digital ones, there is a disparity between apps. While Uber doesn't pay Apple when its app is used to pay for a ride, dating service operator Match does have to pay, with its $500 million annual outlay to Apple representing approximately 30% of the company's cost of operations.

There are also complaints from developers over how Apple's apps don't have to abide by rules about App Tracking Transparency while third-party apps do. Location tracking is also a problem for Tile, which says its users see security warnings that AirTags doesn't have to deal with.

Meanwhile, in China, Tencent's WeChat messaging app appears to be violating Apple's apps-within-apps rules, among other rule breaks. However, due to WeChat's size and popularity, it can get away with flouting Apple's rules, seemingly without penalty.