Business News/ Technology / Coinbase CEO calls Apple’s stance on crypto apps a potential antitrust issue

Coinbase chief executive Brian Armstrong has taken a jab at Apple for its stance on cryptos and apps dealing in them. Armstrong said Apple hasn't played nice with crypto and prohibited app developers from offering many crypto-related features. Armstrong alleged that “there is a potential antitrust issue there". Armstrong was speaking at an episode of the Superteam podcast that was aired last week.

The Apple App Store allows crypto wallets and exchanges to list their apps, but it restricts them from offering many crypto-related services. For instance, the crypto guidelines do not allow apps to offer Initial Coin Offerings (ICO), crypto futures trading, and crypto-securities trading unless they are from an established bank, securities firm, futures commission merchants, or approved financial institutions. Similarly, it does not allow apps to offer cryptos for completing tasks, such as downloading other apps or encouraging other users to download them. Many believe Apple’s guidelines on crypto are not clear and explicit and cannot be applied to specific use cases, which makes compliance harder for app developers.

For instance, Apple has also allowed NFT marketplace OpenSea to list its app in the App Store, allowing users to browse the NFTs, however, trading is blocked. Another NFT app Sticky was removed from the App Store early this year for using the term NFT for digital collectibles that weren’t minted on a public blockchain.

Armstrong argues that banning crypto apps from offering cryptos services impedes their growth and product roadmap.

Though cryptos are still not recognized as legal tender, investments in them have grown. Exchanges such as Coinbase have been on an expansion spree. Early this month, it started its crypto trading services in India, allowing millions of crypto owners to trade on Coinbase’s exchange. However, its plans to allow users to pay for trading through a unified payment interface (UPI) didn't work out and the company had to withdraw the option of UPI payment within days after the India launch.

Coinbase currently has over 43 million users worldwide and over 2.8 million of them are active on it every month.

Armstrong further hinted that crypto-compatible phones will become very popular in the future. But it won't be without support from the major mobile operating system providers. He added that the two mobile operating systems will have to expand their device ecosystem to make room for cryptos. Though blockchain-based smartphones have been launched in the past, they didn’t see any major traction.

Apple is already in the middle of several antitrust cases and investigations into its App store policies that many believe are designed to force developers to use anything but its payment mechanism and pay a high app store commission for every transaction.

Abhijit Ahaskar
Abhijit writes on tech policy, gaming, security, AI, robotics, electronics and startups. He has been in the media industry for over 12 years.
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Updated: 25 Apr 2022, 01:40 PM IST
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