Developer complains to EU over Apple, Google app rules after COVID game rejected


A 3D printed Google logo is placed on the Apple Macbook in this illustration taken April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A German app developer has filed a complaint with European Union antitrust authorities against Google and Apple which he said last year rejected a game aimed at encouraging compliance with government COVID-19 rules.

Several developers have challenged Google and Apple over their app policies, triggering calls for regulatory action as nearly all smartphones outside restricted markets such as China come with either Google's Play store or Apple's App Store.

In the United States, state attorneys general are planning a lawsuit against Google over its Play Store for Android phones following complaints, sources have told Reuters.

The latest complaint filed with the European Commission came this week from the German app developer Florian Mueller, who is also a lobbyist and blogger and once led a successful campaign against a piece of EU legislation.

Mueller has filed a similar complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and antitrust watchdogs in Germany, the Netherlands, Britain and Australia. He is also planning to file another in India next week.

Mueller says the app rules set by the two U.S. tech giants are holding back innovation, in breach of EU regulation, after both companies rejected his Corona Control Game app in November.

Google and Apple rules say COVID-19 related apps must be government approved in order to avoid promoting conflicting or incorrect health advice.

Google told Reuters in response to Mueller's complaint that it only approves apps that reference COVID-19 or related terms if they are published, commissioned, or authorized by an official government entity or public health organization.

Apple had no immediate comment but referred to guidelines issued in March which say entertainment or game apps with COVID-19 as their theme will not be allowed.

The Commission declined to comment. Whether the EU's antitrust enforcers decide to take up a case depends on the merits of the individual complaint and available resources.

Mueller's complaint, which was seen by Reuters, says: "The stated goal of 'ensuring the credibility of health and safety information' does not justify blanket rules based on authorship or merely the combination of a broad category and a topic".

Mueller said that after modifying his app and renaming it Viral Days so that it was not specifically concerning coronavirus, he last month got approval from Google and Apple.

The complaint said the rules in place by Google and Apple were denying small app developers market opportunities and hampering them by unreasonably slowing down and complicating the delivery of pre-release app versions to testers.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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