Apple faces heat from EU antitrust cops for blocking ‘Fortnite’ maker’s app store plans in Europe

Apple and Fortnite
Apple banned Fortnite maker Epic Games' developer account in Europe.

Apple is facing heat from European Union antitrust cops after it blocked “Fortnite” maker Epic Games from launching its own app store for iPhone customers — a brazen move that came even as it faced a deadline to comply with a sweeping European tech competition law.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based firm on Wednesday escalated its nasty public feud with Epic Games and its CEO Tim Sweeney — who previously called Apple’s proposed compliance changes to its App Store “hot garbage” — by terminating the developer account for Epic Games’ Swedish affiliate.

The account, which Apple had approved just weeks earlier, would have allowed Epic to offer “Fortnite” and its “Epic Games Store” directly to iPhone users.

Apple’s surprise move came just a day before a Thursday deadline to comply with the Digital Markets Act — a new law that imposes new restrictions on Apple and five other “gatekeeper” companies and penalizes them for violations. Epic Games called Apple’s surprise move a “serious violation” of the DMA.

Top EU officials appeared to agree.

In a snarky signal of a possible clampdown on Apple, EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager wrote in an X post on Thursday that gamers would “be able to play @FortniteGame once it will be back on iOS” alongside a winking-face emoji — just hours after Apple announced it had terminated Epic’s account in Europe.

Apple banned Fortnite maker Epic Games’ developer account in Europe. REUTERS
Apple banned Fortnite maker Epic Games’ developer account in Europe. REUTERS

Meanwhile, the European Commission has “requested further explanations on this from Apple under the DMA,” a spokesperson confirmed in a statement to The Post.

Epic said Apple had cited Sweeney’s public criticism of the iPhone maker’s business practices as one of the reasons the developer account was terminated.

The North Carolina-based company published a letter it had received from Apple’s App Store chief Phil Schiller.

“Your colorful criticism of our DMA compliance plan, coupled with Epic’s past practice of intentionally violating contractual provisions with which it disagrees, strongly suggest that Epic Sweden does not intend to follow the rules,” Schiller said in the letter.

Schiller also demanded that Epic Games provide “written assurance” that it is acting in “good faith” and explain “why we should trust Epic this time.”

Apple’s brash stance runs the risk of antagonizing the very regulators who will decide whether it is in compliance with the law, according to Sumit Sharma, a senior researcher on tech competition for Consumer Reports.

“It is not clear to me on what basis Apple can ask developers to provide additional assurances before it follows the law – and to cite Epic’s criticism of Apple’s compliance with the DMA as a reason for suspending its account would seem to violate the DMA’s anti-retaliatory provisions,” Sharma said.

“So, in my view, Apple is being unnecessarily antagonistic and not doing itself any favors,” he added.

European Commission officials are also set to examine whether Apple’s actions are in compliance with two other antitrust laws – the Digital Service Act and the Platform-to-Business Regulation.

“The DSA sets a requirement for clear, transparent terms and conditions, no arbitrary application of these terms and conditions, provision of statements of reasons in case a decision is taken, and the possibility for complaints and redress,” a European Commission spokesperson said.

“If content is moderated and accounts are temporarily suspended or permanently terminated, this needs to be proportionate and in due regard to fundamental rights,” the spokesperson added.

Epic Games accused Apple of violating Europe’s Digital Markets Act. SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Epic Games accused Apple of violating Europe’s Digital Markets Act. SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Post has reached out to Apple for further comment.

Apple argued past court rulings had affirmed it had the “sole discretion” to terminate deals with developers if they were found to have violated the terms of their contract.

“In light of Epic’s past and ongoing behavior, Apple chose to exercise that right,” Apple said in a statement.

In the weeks before the DMA took effect, Apple put forward a compliance plan that would allow third-party developers to opt out of its App Store payment system and offer their own versions.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney is pictured. REUTERS
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney is pictured. REUTERS

At the same time, Apple said it would maintain the right to review their apps to ensure they meet cybersecurity and privacy standards and impose a so-called “core technology fee” on the developers.

The latest scrutiny by EU officials comes just days after the commission slapped Apple with a massive $2 billion fine.

Investigators determined that Apple had illegally restricted music app developers from advertising cheaper ways to subscribe to their streaming services outside the App Store in a probe that began after a complaint by streaming giant Spotify.