New European regulation could force Apple and Google to be fairer to app developers
Google and Apple are known for keeping a tight leash on what gets published on their respective app stores. However, at times, the companies have been found guilty of removing apps/games from their platforms without offering developers a clear reason behind the app’s removal. A new EU regulation aims to address this issue and promote a more transparent relationship between developers and the Google Play Store/Apple App Store.
The regulation in question was signed into law in the European Union on June 20, 2019, but per Article 19, it went into effect on July 12, 2020. As a report from gamesindustry.biz points out, the regulation brings new rights for European app/game developers and publishers against distribution platforms like the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. The regulation pushes for a fairer process for removing apps/games from online stores, imposes new transparency requirements for the ranking criteria on such platforms, demands that any differential treatment for big-name developers and publishers be disclosed, implement better transparency for data access rights, and offer more understandable and predictable contract terms.
Fair app/game removal process
With the new regulation, platforms like the Google Play Store and Apple App Store will no longer be able to remove apps/games for arbitrary reasons. The platforms will be required to submit a statement highlighting why an app is being removed 30 days beforehand, thereby giving developers the opportunity to raise a complaint or make all necessary changes to avoid removal. However, the regulation doesn’t require app stores to provide 30-days notice to malicious, copyright infringing, or illegal apps.
The EU regulation also calls for a more transparent ranking system for online stores, however, the Commission hasn’t clarified how it intends to do so. The Commission is expected to publish more detailed guidelines on the transparency of ranking algorithms in the near future and we expect the guidelines to reduce the need for app store optimization services, thereby creating a more level playing field for indie developers and publishers.
Transparency of preferential treatment
There have been plenty of rumors in the past that accuse platforms of providing preferential treatment to big-name developers and publishers. In case there’s any truth to the rumors, the platforms will now have to disclose any such preferential treatment under the new regulation.
Improved transparency of data access rights
The new EU regulation will require platforms to be more transparent about what personal and non-personal data they collect from apps/games. They will also have to disclose what data they provide access to and what data they do not provide access to, which is expected to help evaluate data breach risks connected to the use of such platforms.
Simplified contract terms
The contract terms and conditions disclosed by online stores today can be difficult to understand, even for legal professionals. On top of that, platforms have the ability to change the terms and conditions without any prior notifications. With the new EU regulation, platforms will be required to draft their terms and conditions in plain and intelligible language, making it easier for developers and publishers to understand. Additionally, if the platform decides to make any changes to the contract terms, they will be required to notify developers 15 days beforehand to give them the opportunity to adjust their apps/games based on the new terms.
It’s worth noting that the new regulations only apply to platforms that facilitate direct transactions between developers and publishers, like the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. The regulations will not apply to console manufacturers’ online stores as they enter direct transactional relations with players and don’t identify as “online intermediation services.” Similarly, the regulations won’t apply to services like Apple Arcade, where the contract between developers and the service provider are clearly negotiated.