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Apple Will Let Content Apps Like Netflix, Spotify Link to Their Websites to Sign Up Users

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In a small but notable change, digital media providers with “reader” apps in Apple’s App Store — such as Netflix and Spotify — will now be able to provide links in their iOS apps to let customers sign up for and manage accounts on the companies’ own websites.

Previously, Apple prohibited app developers from including any links to account sign-up pages. For purchases made within the app itself, Apple will still require developers to use Apple’s in-app payment system — under which Apple takes a 30% cut of subscriptions in year one, with that dropping to 15% starting in the second year. (Netflix and Spotify, among others, do not allow such in-app payments.)

On Wednesday, Apple said that it updated its App Store guidelines so that developers of reader apps can now request access to the “External Link Account Entitlement.” That lets reader apps — defined as those that let a user access previously purchased content or content subscriptions (specifically magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music and video) — link to a website “that is owned or maintained by the developer, so that users can create or manage their account outside of the app.”

However, there are restrictions. For example, app developers may not include “the price of items available on the website” in their iOS apps; according to Apple, an example of “acceptable language” on this front is “Go to example.com to create or manage your account.” Also, reader app developers must apply for permission to use the External Link Account Entitlement.

Apple made the change under a settlement with the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC), announced in September 2021. While the agreement was made with the JFTC, Apple said, it is applying the change globally to all reader apps on the App Store.

Apple’s update comes after Google and Spotify announced an agreement last week that will let Spotify’s Android app present the option for subscribers to pay using Google Play’s in-app payment system or Spotify’s directly. Under the Spotify agreement with Google, the music streamer will still pay fees to the internet company regardless of payment method but those will be less than the 15% cut that Google ordinarily collects for Google Play subscription purchases.

Separately, also Wednesday, Apple said that to comply with a recent Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) order, it is eliminating the requirement that developers of dating apps in the Netherlands create two separate apps if they want to use a third-party payment system (one to accept third-party payments and another to accept App Store in-app payments). Apple will charge Dutch dating app developers a 27% commission regardless of which payment mechanism is used.

“As we have previously said, we disagree with the ACM’s original order and are appealing it. In the meantime, the changes we’ve made today demonstrate Apple’s ongoing commitment to fulfill its legal obligations in the Netherlands,” the tech giant said in blog post.

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