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Apple Begins Allowing Some App Signups to Link Outside App Store

The tech giant last year agreed to the change for "reader" apps as part of a settlement with Japan's Fair Trade Commission.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Ian Sherr
Joan E. Solsman
3 min read

Apple's shifting how it manages its App Store.

Angela Lang/CNET

Apple on Wednesday told developers they can now apply to allow "external link account entitlement," a new designation that allows some apps to include signup links that point outside the App Store. The move, which was announced last year as part of a settlement with Japan's Fair Trade Commission, will allow "reader" apps like streaming services more leeway in how they sign up customers.

Apple told developers in a blog post that the reader apps will be able to link to a website that is owned and maintained by the developer, so people can "create or manage their account outside of the app." The new rules for its App Store, which Apple had resisted, will apply globally to apps that provide magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music or video as their primary function.

"Trust on the App Store is everything to us. The focus of the App Store is always to create a safe and secure experience for users, while helping them find and use great apps on the devices they love," Phil Schiller, Apple Fellow who oversees the App Store, said in a statement when announcing the change in September last year. 

Netflix and Spotify -- the biggest streaming video and streaming music services in the world by subscribers, respectively -- both have objected to Apple's App Store policies, and neither of them allows people to subscribe directly inside their apps as a result. Netflix declined to comment about whether it would apply to the program, and Spotify didn't respond to a message seeking comment.  

Apple's rule change comes amid fierce debate both in the public and within the tech industry about how much power tech giants should wield over their respective app stores and platforms. Apple in particular has advocated tight control of its App Store, the only official way to download apps to the hit iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs and Apple Watches. 

Lawmakers, regulators and developers, meanwhile, have argued that Apple should loosen its restrictions, which do not allow developers to offer alternative app stores nor to use alternative payment processors for in-app purchases of digital goods like new looks for a character in a game. Apple and Google both charge commissions of between 15% and 30% for those purchases, which they say help fund the technology and administration of their respective stores.

Some of the largest developers in the industry have taken strong stances against the current app store system. One of them, Fortnite maker Epic Games, sued both Apple and Google over the way they restrict payments on their respective app stores. The game maker, whose online battle royale game has become an international sensation, unsuccessfully argued to a California District Court Judge last year that Apple's actions ran afoul of antitrust laws. It is currently appealing that decision.

Spotify as well has frequently criticized Apple, particularly over its billing system restrictions. Its complaints helped to spur an European Union investigation, accusing Apple of breaching competition laws. Apple has rejected those assertions.

Google, meanwhile, announced a landmark deal last week that will let Spotify offer its own in-app payment option alongside Google's Android billing system, a move the tech giant similarly had resisted for years. Google said its test will begin with Spotify and some other developers, but suggested plans to spread beyond that soon.