Congress wants to read Tim Cook’s emails for antitrust investigation

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Tim Cook with a 2018 WWDC scholarship winner.
Tim shows off the hilarious memes he's forwarded to friends. (Possibly.)
Photo: Apple

House Judiciary Committee leaders want Tim Cook to turn over his emails and other information as part of a possible antitrust investigation.

Cook is one of dozens of executives from Apple, Facebook, Google parent company Alphabet and Amazon named in the request. It follows increased scrutiny of Apple, particularly surrounding the way that it runs the App Store — and possible conflicts of interest that result.

“This information is key in helping determine whether anticompetitive behavior is occurring,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the panel’s top Republican.

Congress asked Apple for executives’ emails about its App Store. Lawmakers also want search results and, the Wall Street Journal notes, “decisions regarding the apps it provides to consumers by default.”

You can read the Congressional letter to Tim Cook here.

Antitrust investigation vs. big tech

More than half of U.S. state attorneys general are currently preparing an antitrust investigation into Google. There are also possible investigations into Amazon and Facebook. No Apple probe has been announced yet by U.S. authorities.

However, the question of the App Store keeps coming up. This week, senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tweeted that Apple has, “too much power.” Warren’s main beef is Apple’s control of the App Store. In 2016, she accused Apple of using the App Store to hinder competition.

In March, Spotify filed a complaint with European regulators. It is upset about the way that Apple charges it money for selling subscriptions through the App Store. Third-party app developers who produce screen time-tracking tools have also hit out at Apple over its Screen Time feature.

Apple denies favoring its own apps over third-party titles. This week, it said that a new App Store algorithm will handicap its own apps versus those of the competition.

Does Apple need to worry?

In my view, Apple has the least to worry about (of the FAANG companies, at least) when it comes to antitrust. There’s no getting around how big Apple is. However, it’s not dominant in any one area. iOS is a bit-player next to Android in total number of users. Apple Music is second to Spotify in streaming music. Apple TV+ will have to work hard to catch up with Netflix, and so on.

The App Store is probably where the battle will wind up being fought. But the fact that iOS is not the dominant mobile platform means that Apple isn’t controlling the most popular App Store. Sure, the App Store is the most profitable, but there are other established players in this space.

Nonetheless, it seems like Apple’s going to have to go through some Congressional fire before it comes out the other side.