Wednesday, March 20, 2024

DMA Compliance Workshop: Notarization and Core Technology Fee

Kay Jebelli:

Big day today as the [European] Commission kicks off its second round of DMA compliance workshops, this time focused on specific gatekeepers, their compliance reports, and the feedback of third-parties.


Interesting detail: the EC told Apple that they aren’t allowed to notarize apps to protect users. So “government authorities are the ones that are going to have to step up to protect” app developers and users from the risks of these 3rd-party apps.


On the difference between iPhone and Mac app distribution, Apple cites the unique differences: mobiles are always carried with us, have more sensitive data, and are a much more attractive target for harmful actors, the risk greater, as are the steps necessary to protect users.

I’ve never really understood this argument because everything on iPhone is sandboxed, and the sensitive sources of information like the camera and GPS are protected by access prompts.

Steve Troughton-Smith has an auto-generated transcript of the workshop.

Ryan Jones:

- EC told Apple they can’t notarize alt apps 🤯

- $1M and 2M alt store rules are to prevent rip-and-run scams on users 👏

- Apple cites: distribution, discovery, promotion, and trust as reasons for their commission 🫤

- Apple cites 3 things alt stores will lack: Report a Problem, Family Sharing, and Ask to Buy. (Surprisingly weak, and notice how it doesn’t match the reasons for commission🤫)

- Someone asks to force users to scroll to see all alt browser choices. 🤦‍♂️

- Apple is using some contract engineering resources for this 😳

Bruno Virlet:

They keep repeating this and I can’t get this argument when e.g. Facebook gets to be on the AppStore for free. Also valid for the Core Platform fee.

Michael Love:

The basic problem with the Core Technology Fee - aside from the fact that they shouldn’t be charging one at all - is that downloads are a terrible proxy for revenue, both in general and across different app categories / business models.

John Gruber (Mastodon):

We know from today’s workshop that (a) Apple has already gotten specific pushback from the EC on aspects of its DMA compliance plan; and (b) Apple continues to think the CTF is perfectly cromulent under the terms of the DMA. That to me says the CTF is going to fly.

John Gruber (Mastodon, MacRumors, 9To5Mac):

AltStore founder Riley Testut — who is apparently ready to go with a launch of the AltStore as an app marketplace in the EU — asked about the “viral hit” problem with the Core Technology Fee. E.g. what happens if a small developer — or even a kid in the proverbial garage — gets a 10-million-download hit and suddenly owes Apple 4.5 million euros?

I was disappointed in the answer, which is that Apple doesn’t know and that the European Commission forces them to charge free apps the CTF, which I don’t think is the case.

Mike Rockwell:

Excellent question, for sure.

It’s worth noting, though, even if Apple waived the fee in all instances like this, the existence of the fee is likely to dissuade people from ever building the app in the first place.

Shane Celis:

How a ruling against Apple was turned into you pay Apple to NOT distribute your app, I do not know.

Dan Moren:

Still, apps that are completely free—including open-source apps—certainly don’t seem like they should be subject to the Core Technology Fee. The question, from Apple’s perspective, is how to police that? What about, say, an app that’s distributed for free outside the App Store but has a big Patreon community that brings in a lot of money?

Colin Cornaby:

I feel like this whole CTF conversation will lead to a “Pro” version of Xcode with a subscription fee that higher end features will be gated behind. Not the worst outcome - and would cover technology usage.

Bruce Lawson:

Apple: “for a long time, Apple has made it easy to choose a default browser other than Safari”. No mention of alternative browser engines, even though this is explicitly mentioned in the text of the DMA.

Only since iOS 14, and only apps approved for a special entitlement.

There was a brief nod to humility at the start of this first Apple session (thanking the EU etc), but Apple are now trash-talking competitors, saying that they’ve had to work really really hard for the last 18 months to meet the DMA, and avoiding/ evading John Ozbey’s direct question about Apple still self-preferencing.


Now, some tiresome FUD about how the sky will fall in if apps can be distributed without Apple checking them first. After all, there are literally zero dodgy apps such as sanctioned Russian banks using trojan horse apps at the moment now, are there?


This new Apple love for web apps is somewhat surprising so soon after some naughty boys from, er, Apple tried to sneak out and drown Home Screen Apps in a bucket without telling anyone, then bawled “The EU made me do it!” when they were caught.

Matt Birchler:

Sanity checking myself: does anyone else feel like the (US) punditry anger directed at the EU for forcing Apple to let devs sell things easily from a website and to ask users what default browser they want to use, is way more intense than any of the concessions (app censorship, 🇹🇼 flag vanishing, iCloud data moved to state-controlled data centers, etc.) they’ve made for China over the years?

My memory is the vibe for China stuff is always, “it’s not good, but what can you do, it’s the law 🤷‍♂️”

Nick Heer:

Other, similar compliance workshops are coming up all week long. Meta’s begins just a few hours from the time I am writing this.


Update (2024-03-21): Callionica wonders whether Jebelli and others are mistaken about the EC not allowing notarization, since that doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the transcript.

Foo Yun Chee:

Vestager said the new fees have attracted her attention.

“There are things that we take a keen interest in, for instance, if the new Apple fee structure will de facto not make it in any way attractive to use the benefits of the DMA. That kind of thing is what we will be investigating,” she told Reuters in an interview.

33 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

> Still, apps that are completely free—including open-source apps—certainly don’t seem like they should be subject to the Core Technology Fee. The question, from Apple’s perspective, is how to police that? What about, say, an app that’s distributed for free outside the App Store but has a big Patreon community that brings in a lot of money?

Such are the thoughts of every ambitious tax authority.

I've been saying this for years. If Apple claims devs are paying fees because they're using resources and APIs and whatever else, then there should be no free apps ever. Otherwise Apple can only claim that the costs are the credit card processing fee.

It also makes no sense that the fees are percent based because that creates nothing but a junk app market. There's no incentive for a developer to make a $50 app and pay Apple $15 on every sale, when other apps that use the same resources and such sell for 99 cents and only pay Apple 30 cents.

Apple can't say these things cost them money, then give everything away to freemium and 99 cent app developers while screwing anyone else who actually wants to charge prices that are high enough to make a living.

Old Unix Geek

Apple to be sued by DOJ for antitrust violations because they blocked others from accessing software and hardware features of the iPhone.

Also, Vestager is reported to be investigating the CTF to see if it dissuades app developers from using the DMA. It would be surprising if she finds it doesn't do exactly that. Unlike John Gruber, I would not conclude it will fly.

@Ben G: Exactly.

On the one hand it's great that anyone with $99 can create an app for the iPhone and launch it on the app store. I can see how it costs Apple more than that per developer to keep iOS and the App Store running. Charging a percentage is a nice way to get around that. Those that make money pay for those that don't. I like socialism.

I don't agree that third party devs should pay for the entire "keep iOS going and the app store up and running" bill though. The iPhone is already making a pretty penny thanks to the thriving app market *that developers forced upon apple*.

Surely someone has calculated how much each developer pays apple as an average?

the amount apple graciously pay devs / number of devs

I doubt any dev would be willing to pay that much. I would find it interesting to see how much apple think they could charge for iOS dev privileges and compare it to how much they're making today.

I keep wondering what's really driving the EC on all of this? The EC bureaucrats would not have enough knowledge in this area to do it on their own. So is it just being driven by developers, or are there a sufficient number of actual users who care about this?

Apple should stop all sales in the EU while they work things out with the EC, and see what happens.

What on earth makes you think that people working for EU can't understand such simple things as the app store and the power that apple wields there?

This is another clear line of apple spin that I see wrt anything that has to do with the DMA, "only apple owners can understand apple".

There is nothing complicated about apple and google and amazon using their dominant positions in ways that are hurting other businesses and consumers.

Michael, did you see this: ? Looks like the US won't be letting Apple off the hook either.

Old Unix Geek

Here is the text of the DOJ's lawsuit

It discusses the App Store.

My comment isn't limited to Apple. Google (et al) could take the same stance. I just don't think there's a huge rush of endusers demanding that the EC make it so that they can get apps from alternate app stores.

Old Unix Geek

Here's a (better that the previous one I submitted) link to the DOJ's lawsuit

As one of the loudest, read: annoying, proponents of tearing down the walled garden, I have been clamoring for this for years. I stopped using iOS largely because how shitty the app store experience really is. I will give Google credit in this one regard, I have many Android devices that completely sidestep the Google Play store. You can't do that on iOS. I've already been using non Google App stores and direct sideloading of apps on Android for years.

I will give Amazon credit too, it isn't impossible to simply not use their app store on Fire tablets either, although Fire TV devices seem more locked down these days. I don't use the Amazon app store on any of my Fire tablets at this point, sometimes I use Google Play, sometimes F-Droid, sometimes direct download.

Old Unix Geek


What's "a huge rush of endusers" got to do with anything?

To quote Henry Ford: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

@OUG: So you're casting the EC as Henry Ford? I think Apple fit that role better when they released the original iPhone.

@Nathan: I support a fairly large population of iOS users professionally (as well as family/friends), and even the highly technical ones (engineers and programmers) have never mentioned anything like "tearing down the walled garden". No one says anything about a bad experience with any aspect of the App Store. I'm not discounting your feelings on the matter - I just haven't found anyone else that feels that way.

Old Unix Geek

@DJ: No, I'm not saying the EU is inventing new products. I'm saying that only listening to users is self-defeating. In this case, the EU has a point: Apple's control over iOS is harming further developments.

I remember a lot of people saying usb c on iPhones was a horrible idea.

@OUG: Only listening to developers is also self-defeating. So Apple shouldn't have control over the operating system that they develop and pay for?

Old Unix Geek

@DJ: No, Apple should not have monopoly control over the OS "they pay for".

It's far more complicated than "they pay for" suggests. The relationship is not like you and your gardener where you get to tell the gardener what to do because you pay him to do it. Apple is not an individual. iOS affects everyone, not just one person and his garden. It's like peeing next to a tree. If only one or two people do it, it doesn't matter. If the whole of New York does it, it kills the tree. Quantity has a quality all of its own.

No, Apple should not. The users should control their systems that the users pay for. Any user arguing against their own agency is confusing to me. Apple used to sell systems that were very open. You could develop software for the platforms with pretty much any tool you wanted, you could self publish, you could set default web browsers and even use non Webkit web browsers, you could run third party OSes on it (at least sometimes, from BeOS, to Linux, to BSD, to even Windows depending on the era). Third party resellers were very common and added value to the chain. Third party companies made actual hardware upgrades for the platform. Third party repair shops were very common and could actually fix the devices and not just swap whole devices. It was very lovely and worked well for a very long time. From the Apple II to the Mac.

Smart phones aren't particularly smart if they are less open than a Commodore 64 or even a old Nokia Symbian smartphone. Phones weren't supposed to be different, they were increasingly little pocket computers that inspired creativity. Anyone who visits the App Stores clearly sees that future never came to pass, free to play games that are largely faux gambling apps masquerading at children's content and predatory subscriptions actually flourish because of the App Store's environment incentivizes these business models.

My opinion. Apple should set sane defaults and if that means more locked down out of the box, so be it. But innovation is stifled if the platform owner can simply block your app or compatible device and then release their own version. Or even simply make it exceedingly hard to succeed without outright blocking it. Why does Apple deserve a 30% cut of all software sold? Or even 15%? Why do they deserve to be the sole arbiter of what's on the platform? Why, if you are a long time Apple user as you seem to be, not see this is a stark change of behavior from the company in the last 14 years or so? While always controlling, they were much more amenable to working with their partners when they were smaller… Again, set sane defaults. I don't even mind defaulting to all Apple software and services, but changing those settings should be easy. Apple should sell their developer tools and keep developer subscriptions that allows app signing, tutorials, and all the other extra extra documentation that makes developing for Apple easier. They can even keep the app store, but it shouldn't be the only way to get software for the platform.

Most people care exactly zero about any of that. They don't want to run a different OS, or write their own software, or (for most people) even load apps from a different app store. And by most people, I would say north (probably far north) of 99%.

Old Unix Geek

Again, most people would have wanted a faster horse.

Most people before, and even during the industrial revolution, did not care what scientists and engineers were up to. But it made your life possible, since half of the people on the planet would not exist without the green revolution -- aka the Haber Bosch process.

What "most people want" is incredibly short-sighted, not some holy grail of truth.

Again, the people that want to do this are not doing it "for the people". They're doing it "for the money". Spotify is not going to improve in any way by having their own app store, they're just going to keep more of the money for themselves. This is not an Industrial Revolution analog, it's a redirection of money.

Old Unix Geek

No. Many of us want more freedom. The ability to make an app and not worry that Apple will simply ban it with its shape-shifting regulations. Others want to use apps you don't care about like emulators, other web browsers, interpreters, not have to fuck around logging in to take a picture with a 3rd party photo app, and other apps people would have developed had they had the same freedom.

Even with Spotify, you are misconstruing things. Spotify wants to be able to compete fairly against Apple Music. Apple charging 30% while competing with them is like fighting with one arm behind their backs, particularly since Apple Music is already installed on the device whereas Spotify needs to make potential customers aware of its existence (which costs money). You also don't know whether they wouldn't improve Spotify if they had more money and could hire more developers. So your absolute statement about them is simply wrong.

And if you're so worried about app developers getting their hands on filthy lucre why aren't you worried about Apple's lucre? They accumulate a lot more of it than anyone else. And they're certainly not using it to hire developers to fix all the bugs in MacOS or iOS. And no, they don't make it, if they're just obtaining it by taxing transactions in the unique market for iOS apps which they just happen to control.

Meanwhile, back at the pool: What you're saying is that you want to be free to build a high-diving platform for my pool, and I have to be OK with that.

Old Unix Geek

Perhaps if I built a tall enough one, you'd knock some sense into yourself :-).

What he wants us to be able to build whatever pool device he wants, and sell them in his own store.

Wether you but it or not is your decision.

Spotify wants to be able to publish an update and get a swift and clear handling of that update. Apple are an abusiven that claim to curate but don't.

Why am I not a normal person in your estimation? I literally listed things I, the consumer, want, so why don't I matter again?

Were you around the Apple ecosystem when Apple moaned their was to the DoJ to do something about Microsoft's dominance in the PC marketplace? If so, why is that okay and not this? And how was that about consumers then, but not about consumers now? Also, where was the hand wringing when the government went after Google for their dominance in search? Why is one company's market your only concern? Or am I misreading and you think no companies should be regulated? I'm confused here.

Furthermore, why did Apple get to ride Microsoft's PC dominance coattails to their own success with the iPod without paying Microsoft 30% of every sale of iTunes content via the install on Windows? Why wasn't Microsoft owed compensation for owning their platform? Weird right? Guess Apple should have paid a platform fee per install, right? No free rides, right? Airport Utility, QuickTime, Safari, etc should have all owed Microsoft a core platform fee, right?

Or you know, that was simply normal for how things worked forever on computing platforms, but my first rodeo for computer, portable music player, smartphone, smart watch, router, etc was simply not an Apple device, so maybe I have a different viewpoint of how a healthy market should work. I used to really like Apple devices, but it's been a long while since I felt good about buying them. Thank goodness for Linux to give me a platform that isn't beholden to Microsoft or Apple right now. Having said that, don't get me started about how bad Red Hat (ever since IBM acquired them mind you) had been acting. Good thing I don't have to deal with Red Hat in my work/home life. I'm a professional kvetcher when it comes to malfeasance from technology companies, I never single out Apple for my complaints.

@Nathan, sorry if I seemed to imply that your opinions were not valid. Insulting anyone is not my intention, although that doesn't seem to be a rule. None of us here are "normal" consumers, given our technical/developer/IT levels of expertise.

I started out with Apple with a Mac SE and Mac II back when those were new, and I built a fairly large cluster using Xserves. Before that I worked on VAX systems, so I've been around a while. :-) That might paint a picture of favoring underdogs -- VAXes when the world leaned IBM, Macs when the world leaned Windows -- but for me it has always been about what least got in the way of what I wanted to do. Do I want to make a deck of punch cards and submit it to the IBM batch queue, or do I want to use a terminal on the PDP-11 and enter commands directly?

Anyway, the topic at hand is Apple, so I've been speaking my opinions about Apple. Apple created the iOS platform to compete in the smartphone market. Everyone who signs on with Apple knows what they're getting into. Consumers know that they will only be able to run iOS apps, developers know that they'll need to develop using Xcode and that there are a set of rules for developing and selling apps. Regardless of the size of the company or market, is it reasonable or fair to knowingly sign up for all of that and then complain about it?

I agree with you on what IBM has done with RedHat (and CentOS). But I also think that IBM is free to do that with their products, just as I was free to switch all of my organization's Linux desktops and servers to Ubuntu.

> Regardless of the size of the company or market, is it reasonable or fair to knowingly sign up for all of that and then complain about it?

I think it is, and I don’t think you _should_ disregard the market when answering that.

Because it isn’t “oh, I could make this available for iOS, too!” so much as “I guess I _have_ to make it available for iOS, huh”.

@Soren: I get what you're saying. But if you're a mobile app developer, these market conditions are already known to you. It's unfortunate that the app market devolved into a "race to the bottom" on price. With most businesses, you would just roll store commissions into your cost model and price your wares accordingly.

>developers know that they'll need to develop using Xcode and that there are a set of rules for developing and selling apps. Regardless of the size of the company or market, is it reasonable or fair to knowingly sign up for all of that and then complain about it?

But it's well documented that the rules they sign up for can change at any moment. Or that the rules won't change but their implementation will change. Or nothing changes and you just get ghosted. Or that one company has one set of rules and you another.

It's absolutely vital to complain when someone is abusing their power. Regardless of size, but I'd say especially when they are huge.

That's a fair point, maybe we are more technically sophisticated than the average user, but I'm really not as learned as my fellows here. I'm not a programmer and I'm not really that wise to these things, I'm more of an active hobbyist who sometimes gets to do it semi-professionally. :)

I don't have much to add given your explanation, but was curious how Ubuntu is serving your organization. I didn't really start using Linux until Ubuntu was out in 2004, but wow, 20 years already, eh? At some point for personal use I switched to Arch based systems and didn't look back but I used Ubuntu for years.

Ubuntu works well for most things. For a lot of our users (higher ed), if they have any previous experience with Linux at all, it's with Ubuntu, so that makes the learning curve a little easier for them, and it's good for most server-level stuff . It's mainstream enough to be well-supported, although we did just run into a company that supports at least a half dozen Linux variants and Ubuntu isn't one of them.

I haven't tried Arch yet, so I don't know how it compares. I'll have to take a look.

@DJ Yeah, that tracks in my experience. If a Linux is supported, it's almost always Ubuntu as one of the options (except apparently that one company).

Arch is great, but I don't know if I'd run a company or large org on it. Bleeding edge and many software packages are not built directly for it, but AUR helps there (but is a bit more wild west). As a rolling distro, it's constantly updated and a bit more bleeding edge. I believe SteamOS uses Arch now, but Valve can custom build things and support their small set of devices pretty easily.

My mom's household is all Arch now, because I can support it pretty easily, and so is my household, excepting my daughter's laptop and Surface which both run Windows 10.

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