Facebook Wades Into ‘Fortnite’ Maker’s Dispute With Apple

Facebook Inc.

FB 0.04%

said it would assist the company behind the popular videogame “Fortnite” in its high-profile legal battle with

Apple Inc.,

AAPL -0.05%

as the social-media giant ramps up its own counterattack against what it says are the iPhone maker’s self-serving measures cloaked in the interest of privacy.

Facebook has been feuding with Apple for months on issues ranging from prices for paid apps to privacy-rule changes.

As part of a pledge to assist challenges to what it called Apple’s anticompetitive behavior, Facebook plans to provide supporting materials and documents to Epic Games Inc. The “Fortnite” parent sued Apple this year, claiming the tech giant’s App Store operates like a monopoly. Facebook said it isn’t joining the lawsuit but helping with discovery as the case heads to trial next year.

A spokeswoman for Epic declined to comment.

In a blog post Wednesday, Facebook sharpened its criticism of Apple’s plan to enable users to restrict certain apps from collecting personal data, saying those policies could imperil small businesses while potentially benefiting its own bottom line.

Facebook placed full-page ads on the matter in several newspapers Wednesday, including The Wall Street Journal. “We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” the ads begin.

“This is not really about privacy for them,” said

Dan Levy,

Facebook’s head of ad products. “This is about an attack on personalized ads and the consequences it’s going to have on small-business owners.”

Apple said in a statement: “We believe that this is a simple matter of standing up for our users. Users should know when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites—and they should have the choice to allow that or not.”

Apple has said starting early next year its iOS 14 operating system will give iPhone and iPad users the option to no longer share personal information that many developers rely on to tailor ads. When users open an app, they will see a message asking permission to track what other apps and websites they visit, their location and other behaviors.

Apple’s plan has drawn criticism from a range of businesses and trade groups. They include the publisher of DMG Media, operator of the Daily Mail and MailOnline, and the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media, a coalition of advertisers and ad-tech companies that was formed in July to forestall Apple’s change.

A group of trade associations filed a complaint with France’s competition authority in October, saying that Apple’s plan was anticompetitive.

Facebook itself is facing challenges to its business practices. The Federal Trade Commission and 46 states sued the company this month, accusing it of buying upstart rivals to choke off competition. The FTC’s case aims to force Facebook to unwind acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, two of its landmark deals. Facebook countered that the FTC had previously approved those acquisitions and said that people and small businesses choose to use its free services and advertising because of the value that it provides them.

Apple’s stock-market value hit a new high this year, but its longstanding disputes with app developers are bubbling over into public view. WSJ explains why high-profile companies such as Epic Games, Spotify and Tinder are at odds with App Store rules. Video/illustration: Jaden Urbi/WSJ (Originally published Oct. 1, 2020)

By aiding Epic, Facebook is wading further into a battle over Apple’s App Store commission that is being waged by several other companies, including

Spotify Technology SA

and Tinder owner

Match Group Inc.

Epic filed suit against Apple and

Alphabet Inc.’s

Google in August after the companies pulled “Fortnite” from their app stores because the developer added an unauthorized payment system to the survival game that skirted a 30% fee they both collect on in-app purchases. Apple countersued a month later, accusing Epic of duplicity and greed.

Apple and Google have said the commission they charge is in line with what most other app marketplaces charge and helps cover the cost of store services they provide, such as user privacy and security.

In August, Facebook said Apple’s commission was hurting small businesses that had started charging for special events and experiences through their mobile apps to make up for financial losses caused by the pandemic. Apple a month later said it would give businesses a reprieve from paying the fee on such in-app sales until year-end.

More recently, Apple said it would halve the commission it charges smaller developers that sell software through its App Store.

The iPhone maker said last month that starting next year it will collect 15%, rather than 30%, of App Store sales from companies that generate less than $1 million in revenue through the software platform, including in-app purchases.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com and Jeff Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com

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