Apple to let some apps offer links for account signups outside its App Store

In an agreement with Japan's Fair Trade Commission, Apple says it will let "reader" apps like Netflix add links for signup websites off the App Store.

Ian Sherr Contributor and 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. As an editor at large 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.
Ian Sherr
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Apple's increasingly had to defend its App Store from regulators, lawmakers and legal challenges.

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Apple plans to offer apps like the streaming service Netflix more leeway in how they sign up customers, allowing them to insert in-app links to their website from within the app. Apple announced the move as part of an agreement with the Japan Fair Trade Commission, which had been investigating the App Store. The change will go into effect next year.

Apple said the change to its App Store rules, which it had resisted, will apply globally to "reader" apps. These programs provide previously purchased content or subscriptions like magazines, newspapers, books, music and video. 

"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.

The agreement comes amid Apple's ongoing litigation with Fortnite developer Epic Games. In that case, Epic's argued that Apple's tight control of its App Store violates antitrust rules.

Apple's agreement with the Japan Fair Trade Commission is latest attempted concession the tech giant's made over its App Store as it faces an onslaught of criticism and scrutiny over its business practices. Lawmakers, regulators, developers and competitors have argued against the tech giant's strict rules, which only allow apps it approves to be installed on iPhones or iPads. Those rules, which the company periodically updates, spell out what types are and are not allowed to be published for sale. 

Apple's rules also require that developers selling digital goods ranging from a subscription to a new look for a character in a game do so through its in-app payments system, which typically charges up to a 30% commission on all transactions. Earlier this week, South Korea's National Assembly passed a bill aimed to force app store operators to drop such provisions. The country's president is expected to sign it into law sometime soon.

In the meantime, Apple's settlement with the Japanese regulator will allow "reader" apps around the world more leeway, Apple said, making it easier for people to set up and manage their apps and services, "while protecting their privacy and maintaining their trust."

Correction, 11 p.m. PT: Apple did not specify whether it will require developers to offer subscriptions through in-app purchases or not. A previous version of this story said Apple will still require apps to offer subscriptions through in-app purchases in addition to including a link to their alternative signup website.