App StoreSource: Joe Keller / iMore

What you need to know

  • The U.S. Justice Department is looking at Apple's App Store as part of a larger antitrust probe.
  • The government has been meeting with app developers for over a year now.
  • It is still unknown if the DOJ will bring a case against the company.

The App Store's policies recently came under public scrutiny when Apple and Hey Email engaged in a very public debate about the App Store's payment system requirements. Now, it appears that the United States Justice Department has been talking to developers such as Hey Email for the last year about the same subject.

Reported by Bloomberg, the Justice Department has been looking into Apple's App Store policies, specifically the company's rules about requiring developers to use its payment system.

"Government lawyers have met with developers as recently as last week and are asking questions about Apple's rules that require apps to use its App Store payment system for subscriptions, said the people, who declined to be identified discussing a confidential matter. Apple pockets up to a 30% cut when apps use the payment technology. The Justice Department has been interviewing developers about Apple since mid-2019, the people said. The inquiry is continuing and no final decisions have been made about whether to bring a case."

One of the developers interviewed by the DOJ has been David Heinemeier Hansson, the founder of Basecamp and co-founder of Hey Email, which recently resolved a payment policy issue with Apple after publicly decrying the App Store policies publicly before WWDC.

"The Justice Department has met with both high-profile and small developers that sell apps. "We've spoken with the DOJ regarding Apple and the App Store twice," said David Heinemeier Hansson, the founder of software company Basecamp, which created the Hey email app, in an interview. "We shared our experience, relayed the experience of others, and put them in contact with a developer who didn't want to go public with their story. I'm really glad that the DOJ is looking into this, because we need both legislative action, but also enforcement."

Other apps, like Spotify, have also accused Apple of anti-competitive behavior for taking a 30% fee for new subscribers if they signed up through the App Store while Apple pays no such fee for new Apple Music subscribers. Apple, on the other hand, believes that the fee is appropriate and has accused Spotify of wanting "all the benefits of a free app without being free".

"Apple accuses Spotify of wanting "all the benefits of a free app without being free" and has accused Spotify of seeking to "keep all the benefits of the App Store ecosystem -- including the substantial revenue that they draw from the App Store's customers -- without making any contributions to that marketplace."

It is still unclear if the Department of Justice will bring a case against Apple, but the investigation is ongoing.