Google, Apple Forced to Open App Store Pay Systems in South Korea

Google, Apple Forced to Open App Store Pay Systems in South Korea

Google, Apple Forced to Open App Store Pay Systems in South Korea

Written by Staff Writer

02 Sep, 2021 | 5:37 pm

South Korea became the first country to force Apple and Google to open up their app stores to other payment systems, setting a potentially radical precedent for their lucrative operations everywhere from India to the U.S.

The National Assembly passed a bill that will ban app store operators from forcing developers to use their online payment systems and instead allow users to pay through a variety of methods.

The bill will become law as soon as it’s signed by President Moon Jae-in, possibly as early as next month.

The Telecommunications Business Act says users must be given a free choice of app payment providers and opens the door for companies like Fortnite maker Epic Games Inc. to transact directly with customers, bypassing the platform owner’s charges.

Epic has taken the iOS and Android owners to court in various jurisdictions arguing their fees are unfair.

Korean lawmakers are making their move ahead of plans by Google to introduce its 30% commission fee in October, reversing a years-long exemption for the country.

The company’s announcement last year that it would make its payment system mandatory for non-gaming apps is widely seen as the trigger for the new legislation — dubbed locally the anti-Google law.

The controversy over commissions goes to the heart of how Apple and Google sustain a dominance that’s endured since the start of the global smartphone era over a decade ago.

Apple settled a wide-ranging class-action lawsuit with U.S. app makers Thursday, but without agreeing to major changes to its policies.

The revenue streams in question are central to profit growth for both Apple and Google.

The iPhone maker’s App Store feeds broader efforts to grow income from services and subscriptions, producing around $20 billion annually, according to Sensor Tower.

Google’s Android is booming in user numbers as India’s population gets online with the help of mobile devices, and app fees are a key way the company monetizes its otherwise free software.

Google said its payment model helps keep device costs low for consumers and enables platforms and developers to succeed financially.

Apple emphasized that the ruling will erode safety protections for users, leading to a decline in trust in App Store purchases and ultimately fewer earning opportunities for developers in Korea.

The ramifications extend beyond just the $142 billion world of apps. The confrontation strikes at the fundamental role played not only by Apple and Google but also Inc. and Facebook Inc. as the new gatekeepers of the digital economy.

Over a decade, all four companies have built up vast online marketplaces on which their rivals do business.

Korea remains one of the few arenas where local players such as Naver Corp. and Kakao Corp. hold sway, though they’re under threat: YouTube this year became the nation’s top video service, for instance, edging out Naver.

Lawmakers now echo their U.S. counterparts in saying the absence of competition exposes consumers and developers to the whims of the duo. In India, startup founders have been especially vocal about getting shut out.

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