A few days ago it became known that a non-profit organization called Together We Fight Society (TWFS) had filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with the Indian Competition Commission (CCI) for its app store practices. Not much was known about the organization, however. MediaNama spoke to CA Shivani Dharnia, President of TWFS, to learn more about the organization.
Read: Apple is facing another antitrust complaint about the App Store, this time in India
When was TWFS founded and what does it do?
CA Shivani Dharnia: We were formally incorporated in May 2021 under the provisions of the Rajasthan Societies Registration Act 1958. The NGO was established for a non-profit purpose aimed at raising public interest litigation (‘PIL’) on key public issues such as fighting corruption and promoting transparency, and is environmentally friendly.
Who runs the organization and where is it located?
CA Shivani Dharnia: The NGO is led by me and is currently based in Jaipur, but we are also planning an office in Delhi soon.
Can you provide more information on TWFS ‘work to date?
CA Shivani Dharnia:
- Before Apple, we had filed Case No. 20 of 2021 with the Competition Commission of India, which related to the alleged cartel formation in the installation and maintenance of a reverse osmosis system in Rajasthan by around 8 national companies that caused losses to the treasury. The same has also been recognized by the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the Commission has ordered a further investigation under the provisions of Section 26 (1) of the Competition Act 2002.
- We have also addressed the cause of two government companies that bear the brunt of the burden (environmental degradation, vibration, noise and air pollution) of the Central Vista project in the heart of the capital. The project contractors, namely Ahluwalia Contracts India Limited and Swadeshi Civil Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. Legal notices have already been served on both companies and within some time we would be filing our petition before the National Green Tribunal (‘NGT’).
- In addition, we also promote transparency with legal instruments such as RTI etc.
What prompted TWFS to file an antitrust complaint against Apple with CCI?
CA Shivani Dharnia: Given Apple’s gatekeeper character in the app ecosystem, we decided to seek an appeal to change Apple’s abusive behavior (which directly and indirectly affects anyone who is aware of the current nomophobia situation). In our fight against Apple, we are looking for support from Indian start-ups / Atmanirbhar Digital India Foundation (‘ADIF’), which includes Paytm, GOQii, Bharat Matrimony, MapMyIndia etc., so that the complaint can come to a logical conclusion.
Can you provide details on the issues highlighted in the complaint?
CA Shivani Dharnia: To get a bird’s eye view of the complaint, the main allegations are as follows:
- The problem of the 30% in-app purchase fee (I prefer to call it “Apple Tax”) which affects not only the startups but also the end users in terms of paying high prices as the consumer after all, the main burden is borne by the Apple tax.
- Limitation for the app developers that they cannot inform the user about alternative purchase options for the same product from a website where the app developer does not have to pay 30% Apple tax.
- The petition also highlighted the capricious, whimsical nature of the App Store policy, which can either result in the suspension / removal of the apps from the App Store (without applying the same rules to Apple’s own vertical offering, i.e. like Apple Maps, Apple Music, etc. .).
- Every blocking (as part of the 3rd edition) from the App Store leads to a loss of sales and reputation for the start-ups.
- Finally, we also emphasized that Apple sets the rules of the game (“App Store Review Guidelines”), whereby not only the player (Apple’s own apps in the App Store) but also the referee (Apple is the referee) is whether an app is from the app Store should be blocked / removed).
Given Apple’s very small market share in India (3 percent), why did TFWS focus on Apple?
CA Shivani Dharnia: It’s a myth that Apple isn’t a dominant company and doesn’t affect consumers or startups. It is the only provider in the area of the non-licensable smart mobile operating system with a market share of almost 95%, while Android serves the licensable smart mobile operating system, which is a different segment of its own. The antitrust investigation against Apple will have a profound impact on startups, especially those who need to develop the apps not only for the Google Play Store but also for Apple’s App Store in order to remain relevant in the market. In addition, we also highlighted in our information / complaints that the revenue per user for each app in the Apple App Store is higher than that of Google’s Play Store, making it a cash-rich business for apps / startups. Just because Apple has a small overall market share, its abusive behavior cannot be neglected.
Why isn’t TWFS after Google, which has a bigger market share in India?
CA Shivani Dharnia: Google is already in the soup facing antitrust proceedings before the Competition Commission of India (Case 07 of 2020 available.) here ). Therefore, it does not make sense to submit two separate cases on the same topic.
Has Apple reached out to TWFS regarding this complaint?
CA Shivani Dharnia: No.
What regulations do you think the government should put in place to address issues in the app market?
CA Shivani Dharnia: We believe that the matter should be left to the wisdom of the sectoral regulator like CCI, which is well equipped and has the expertise to address such issues. A legislative initiative to curb such abusive behavior (as in South Korea) seems like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer.
Does TWFS currently have any plans to pursue more tech companies?
CA Shivani Dharnia: – Yes, we’ll be looking at other big tech in the coming months. We have already started preparing a watertight trial against two other big tech companies.
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