Apple’s treatment of small games developer makes a textbook antitrust case

Apple has voraciously denied accusations that the App Store has monopolistic control over iPhone apps, yet the company’s ability to unilaterally close developer accounts without explanation forms a textbook antitrust case.

One small games developer had its Apple Developer Program (ADP) account terminated without explanation, was unable to appeal as it hadn’t been told what accusations it needed to address, took Apple to court – and then had its account reinstated after five months of lost sales, still without explanation or apology …

Patently Apple reports the story revealed through the lawsuit.

Digital Will is a Japanese headquartered software solution developer, digital marketing agency, game publisher, and product innovation lab. Digital Will develops, among other things, digital games and apps […]

Plaintiff is a small business with only six employees, and its revenue and livelihood largely depend on its ability to distribute its digital products through Apple’s App Store […]

On or about March 26, 2022, without warning and to Plaintiff’s surprise, Plaintiff received a boilerplate message from Apple’s App Store Review stating that Apple determined that Digital Will’s ADP membership “has been used for dishonest or fraudulent activity,” and thus, Plaintiff’s ADP account was “flagged for removal.”

The boilerplate message stated that Apple found that Digital Will’s ADP account was allegedly “associated with terminated developer accounts, or accounts pending termination, in direct violation of the Apple Developer Program License Agreement.”

Critically, Apple’s message to Digital Will did not identify any such accounts that were terminated or pending termination with which Digital Will’s account was allegedly associated.

In fact, Apple’s message did not identify any specific facts whatsoever, or any particular misconduct in which Digital Will engaged that violated the DPLA.

The message further stated that Digital Will could appeal this determination within 14 days so long as it provides a written statement that thoroughly explains the issues Apple identified, the specific steps Plaintiff will take to resolve them, and any new information clarifying the issues.

However, it was impossible for Digital Will to appeal and respond to “the issues [Apple] identified,” when Apple had not identified any specific issues.

Notably, and importantly, Plaintiff’s ADP membership has never been used for dishonest or fraudulent activity.

Since the developer had no idea what it was supposed to have done wrong, it was unable to meet Apple’s appeal requirement of explaining what happened, and how it has resolved the issue. The appeal was thus denied.

Some five months after Digital Will had its apps pulled from the App Store, and two months after it sent a lawyer’s letter to Apple, the Cupertino company reinstated the account. No explanation was offered.

The company estimates that its total losses and costs exceed $765k, and is seeking damages from Apple.

With a lawsuit pending, it’s a certainty that Apple will not comment on the case.

Photo: Evan Wise/Unsplash

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