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EU tells Apple to justify its blocking of Epic Games

"Fortnite" ad (source: Epic Games)

European Union regulators have asked Apple to explain its preventing Epic Games from launching an online store, and say the move could be non-compliance with the law.

Apple originally terminated an Epic Games developer account over its breaking of App Store rules in August 2020. It led to years of legal battles, but since the EU required Apple to allow third-party app stores in its region, Epic Games applied for a new developer account.

Epic Games was among the first companies to say it would produce an EU-only third-party rival to Apple's App Store. However, Apple rejected that application for a developer account, and so entirely blocked Epic Games from returning to the iPhone.

In emails released by Epic Games, Apple is seen to have called the company "verifiably untrustworthy," and pointed to its previous breaches of contracts. According to Reuters, however, regulators in the EU say that this not sufficient, and they have now written to Apple requiring an explanation for its actions.

"We have requested further explanations on this from Apple under the DMA (Digital Markets Act)," an EU spokesperson told Reuters.

While the EU could always have asked Apple about its actions, this request is more significant because it comes on March 7, 2024, which is the first day that the DMA is in effect. The EU now has the regulatory authority to fine Apple for non-compliance, which the firm's rivals are already accusing it of.

"We are also evaluating whether Apple's actions raise doubts on their compliance with the DSA [Digital Services Act] and the P2B [Platform to Business Regulation]," continued the EU spokesperson, "given the links between the developer programme membership and the App store as designated VLOP [very large online platform]."

In a response to Reuters, Apple has reiterated its position that Epic Games has a record of breaking contracts that it had previously agreed to.

"Epic's egregious breach of its contractual obligations to Apple led courts to determine that Apple has the right to terminate 'any or all of Epic Games' wholly owned subsidiaries, affiliates, and/or other entities under Epic Games' control at any time and at Apple's sole discretion'," said a spokesperson for Apple.

"In light of Epic's past and ongoing behavior," the spokesperson continued, "Apple chose to exercise that right."

Separately, Apple has amended its requirements for developers to run rival app stores. It's also added an one-time escape clause for developers to revert to exclusively using Apple's own App Store.