South Korea is likely to bar Google and Apple from requiring software developers to use their payment systems, effectively stopping them from charging commissions on in-app purchases, the first such curbs on the tech giants by a major economy.
The parliament’s legislation and judiciary committee is expected on Tuesday to approve the amendment of the Telecommunications Business Act, dubbed the “Anti-Google law,” that takes aim at app store operators with dominant market positions.
If the bill gets the committee’s approval, it will be put to a final vote on Wednesday. Lawmakers in South Korea have pushed the issue of the commission structure since mid-2020.
In a statement, Apple Inc said the bill “will put users who purchase digital goods from other sources at risk of fraud, undermine their privacy protections, make it difficult to manage their purchases.”
The iPhone maker said it believes “user trust in App Store purchases will decrease as a result of this proposal – leading to fewer opportunities for the over 482,000 registered developers in Korea who have earned more than KRW8.55 trillion to date with Apple.”
Both companies have faced global criticism because they require software developers using their app stores to use proprietary in-app payment systems that charge commissions of up to 30 per cent on in-app purchases.
“For gaming apps, Google has been forcing app developers to use its own payment system … and it wants to expand its policy to other apps like music or webtoon,” said Kwon Se-hwa, a general manager at the Korea Internet Corporations Association, a non-profit group representing Korean IT firms.
“If the new bill becomes the law, developers will have options to use other independent payment systems,” Kwon said.
The European Union last year proposed the Digital Markets Act, taking aim at app store commissions. The rules are designed to affect large companies, but some European lawmakers are in favour of tightening them to specifically target American technology giants, Reuters reported in June.
Earlier this month in the United States, a bipartisan trio of senators introduced a bill that would rein in app stores of companies that they said exert too much market control, including Apple and Google.
In South Korea, the home market of Android phone maker Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Google Play Store earned revenue of nearly 6 trillion won ($5.15-billion) in 2019, according to a government report published last year.
Earlier this year, Google said it would lower the service fee it charges developers on its app store from 30 per cent to 15 per cent on the first $1-million they earn in revenue in a year. Apple has made similar moves.
For Apple too, commissions from in-app purchases are a key part of its $53.8-billion services business, and are a major expense for some app developers.
In May, an antitrust lawsuit filed by the maker of the popular game Fortnite against Apple revealed that the game maker paid $100-million in commissions to Apple over two years.
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