On August 13, 2020, Epic Games, the developer and publisher of the massively popular online game Fortnite, tried something that most companies would be too scared to do. They picked a fight with Apple. On that day, Epic announced a 20% discount on “V-Bucks,” Fortnite’s in-game currency, but only if they purchase it directly from Epic, rather than through Apple’s App Store.
This was an intentional violation of Apple’s terms of service, as Apple takes a 30% commission of all in-app purchases, and Epic wanted that extra money for itself. Within hours, Apple took Fortnite off the App Store for violating its terms of service, with a lawsuit by Epic quickly following .
On September 10, 2021, that lawsuit received a ruling. The judge sided with Apple on nine of ten counts, but ordered Apple to loosen restrictions on alternative payment options . However, Apple CEO Tim Cook still stated that, even if an app uses a non-Apple payment option, Apple would still invoice the 30% commission . So, what’s next? Epic appealed the ruling, but for now, Apple still maintains tight control over the apps on its App Store. Ultimately, this case highlights the uniqueness of Apple’s software philosophy, and how its relationships with third-party developers frequently draw ire.
A Walled Garden
For years, Apple’s software philosophy has been described as a “walled garden.” This means that Apple’s software is simple, secure, and easy to use for the consumer. However, Apple also strongly dissuades or even forbids users and developers from leaving their walled garden. Apple states that this approach is necessary to protect its users, and also to differentiate itself from Android, a competitor with a more open ecosystem . Ultimately, this leads to increased simplicity for the user, along with increased dependence on Apple software. So while this approach does protect users from dubious third parties, it also entraps users into Apple’s ecosystem as well.
While Apple claims that its walled garden approach is to offer increased security and simplicity for its users, there are other reasons why Apple uses this philosophy. Because Apple has full control of its ecosystem, it can enforce practically any rule it wants. This includes a 30% commission on in-app purchases. Unfortunately, for third-party developers, this means putting up with Apple’s demands or risk getting kicked out of the garden. And that’s exactly what happened with Epic Games.
The Legal Argument
The main conflict of Epic Games vs. Apple focused on whether Apple’s walled garden approach violates antitrust law. Specifically, Apple’s requirement to force users to only purchase in-game items through the App Store, rather than through another party, was used as evidence of monopolistic behavior . On the other hand, Apple argued that they are free to do business (or not do business) with any other company, and that their restriction of third-party payment services was within their rights as a business. Simply put, this case pitted first-party hardware and third-party software developers against one another.
Ultimately, the court ruled with Apple on nine of ten counts, with Epic stating their intention to appeal their decision . In the one ruling against Apple, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers stated that “Apple created a new and innovative platform which was also a black box. It enforced silence to control information and actively impede users from obtaining the knowledge to obtain digital goods on other platforms. Apple has used this lack of knowledge to exploit its position .” However, because the judge ruled in favor of Apple in the other nine counts, few changes are likely to occur.
While there was potential for a landmark ruling that would shake Apple to its core, the actual ruling that was handed down will likely not have a massive effect on either company. The only change Apple must make is to allow developers to use third-party payment services. However, nothing is stopping Apple from collecting the 30% commission from those third-party developers. Ultimately, while this court ruling had the potential for massive change, the judge’s ruling ensured that Apple’s walled garden philosophy will continue.
Security and Your Rights
While Apple argued that its App Store policies were there to protect users, we know that isn’t the main reason for those restrictive rules. Simply put, the purpose of Apple’s walled garden approach is to keep users locked into the Apple ecosystem. While some users do prefer this method, and it can protect users from unsavory third-party developers, it still infringes upon the rights of consumers.
Unfortunately, this philosophy is all too common with Big Tech companies. Sacrificing privacy is a big win for Big Tech, but a huge loss for privacy rights. Corporations continue to collect hoards of personal data to sell to advertisers, while your privacy is violated. With Amazon, Google, and others offering endless new ways to collect your data, it’s fair to ask: Are you the customer, or the product?
Thankfully, there are businesses that prioritize security and personal rights. That’s where AXEL comes in. AXEL believes that privacy is a human right. With this in mind, we created AXEL Go, a secure file-sharing and storage software. Offering industry-leading encryption and decentralized blockchain technology, AXEL Go is the best way to protect yourself or your business from unauthorized cybercriminals. With AXEL Go, there’s no compromise between security and privacy rights. After all, our business is protecting your data, not collecting it. If you’re ready to try the most secure file-sharing and storage software, get two free weeks of AXEL Go here.
 Statt, Nick. “Apple Just Kicked Fortnite off the App Store.” The Verge. August 13, 2020. https://www.theverge.com/2020/8/13/21366438/apple-fortnite-ios-app-store-violations-epic-payments.
 Newman, Daniel. “Does The Epic Ruling Open The Door For Apple’s Competition?” Forbes. September 16, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielnewman/2021/09/16/does-the-epic-ruling-open-the-door-for-apples-competition/.
 Adorno, José. “Apple Can Still Charge Its App Store 30% Fee Even after Epic Ruling, Analysts Say.” 9to5Mac. September 14, 2021. https://9to5mac.com/2021/09/14/apple-can-still-charge-its-app-store-30-fee-even-after-epic-ruling-analysts-say/.
 Beres, Damon. “All the New Ways Apple Is Trying to Take Over Your Life.” Slate Magazine. June 08, 2021. https://slate.com/technology/2021/06/apple-wwdc-ios15-new-features-walled-garden.html.