Japan, US Authorities Investigate Apple Under Anti-Monopoly Act

Japanese and US authorities are investigating allegations that Apple pressured Yahoo Japan to pull back from a game platform which competes with the App store, according to Nikkei.

The move is the latest effort by regulators to address suspected anti-competitive behavior by American tech titans. 

The Fair Trade Commission and the industry ministry began receiving reports from Yahoo last fall about issues surrounding its Game Plus platform. The web-based service, launched in July 2017, lets users play games without needing to download apps. For developers, the service features much looser restrictions surrounding sales, fees and software updates than Apple's App Store.

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Yahoo told multiple business partners that it was forced to cut back because of pressure behind the scenes from Apple. The Japanese company relies on the U.S. tech giant for part of its profits in the form of sales through the App Store. -Nikkei

A total of 52 companies agreed to participate in Yahoo's platform, including role-playing game maker Square Enix Holdings, while Yahoo would offer the companies value-added data from its more than 60 million monthly active users - "such as search history, ads and payment information" which could help game makers sell merchandise and create new titles. Yahoo sought to expand the platform into non-gaming applications, such as business software. 

Last fall, however, Yahoo abruptly slashed its budget for Game Plus, and has virtually ceased all promotion of the service. Square Enix, meanwhile, pulled a title developed exclusively for the platform, "Antique Carnevale," from Game Plus. 

In 2017, Japan's app market reached $13 billion, according to American research firm App Annie. Apple's app store is a large part of that, and a cash cow for the Silicon Valley behemoth. Yahoo's model posed a direct threat. 

The FTC has been gathering information on the situation, which it believes may constitute interference in Yahoo's business prohibited by the Anti-Monopoly Act. But its investigation seems to be getting bogged down. 

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In many cases like this, businesses often hesitate to work with authorities, prioritizing their own interests instead. "If the parties involved don't cooperate, it's hard to prove" wrongdoing, said an attorney with experience at the FTC. -Nikkei

SoftBank, meanwhile, has stepped in to mediate according to a Nikkei source. As Yahoo's largest shareholder, the investment powerhouse collects payments made by its cellular subscribers to the App store for Apple while keeping a portion of the revenue as an intermediary. 

Antitrust authorities around the world have taken aim at the "big four" tech titans; Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon - however progress has been slow. 

AAPL shares are still outperforming the broad market for now (helped by filings that showed Buffett continuing to pile in) and holding above the magic trillion dollar market cap level...