House committee approves antitrust legislation that could hit Apple hard

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App Store faces barrage of antitrust charges
Apple's antitrust woes look set to continue.
Photo: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels CC

A House committee approved antitrust legislation Thursday that threatens many big tech companies — Apple included. In a 24 to 20 vote early this morning, the committee approved the American Choice and Innovation Online Act.

The bill, which still needs to pass the full House, seeks to stop big platforms from advantaging their own products or services over those made by others. That could affect Apple, which not only owns and operates the App Store distribution platform, but also makes products that compete with some of the apps distributed through said store.

Antitrust bills target tech

The Wall Street Journal called the American Choice and Innovation Online Act the “centerpiece” of a six-bill package being considered by lawmakers.

The committee approved five of them during a marathon 19-hour debate that started Wednesday and stretched into the early morning hours of Thursday.

“Another measure, passed late Wednesday, requires that the largest internet platforms make it easier for users to transport their data to other platforms and even communicate with users on other platforms,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “The bill — known as the Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching, or Access, Act — would give the Federal Trade Commission extensive new powers to set individualized standards for the tech giants. It passed, 25-19…. Two other less-controversial bills also were adopted, one raising federal fees on corporate merger reviews and another aiding state attorneys general in procedural battles in antitrust court cases.”

Debate on the sixth bill, which Politico called “the panel’s starkest proposal,” is set for Thursday morning when the subcommittee reconvenes. That bill “could make it easier to break up tech giants like Google and Facebook,” Politico said.

Misguided legislation?

The bills followed a 16-month House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee investigation into Big Tech. That probe resulted in a 449-page report outlining possible methods for reigning in companies like Apple, Google and Facebook.

Politico said lawmakers from California — where those tech giants maintain their headquarters — provided the main opposition to the bills. Committee member Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, predicted the legislation would never become reality.

“Many of these bills are going to die in the Senate if they even get out of the House,” Issa said.

In an opinion piece Thursday, Futurum Research analyst Daniel Newman said the “completely misguided antitrust bills” show that lawmakers don’t understand businesses or even the law itself.

“The bills would give agencies and lawmakers the ability to interfere with a handful of cherry-picked technology companies based on mere potential conflicts of interest rather than demonstrable anticompetitive behavior,” Newman wrote. “This would constitute a radical and reckless rewriting of U.S. antitrust law.”

Apple fights back against legislation

Apple has been pulling out all the stops to try to quash the proposed antitrust bills. In a letter sent Wednesday, Apple argued that this legislation could undermine innovation and competition in tech, and create a “race to the bottom” for security and privacy. Apple also published a white paper on the topic.

Erik Neuenschwander, Apple’s head of user privacy,  gave an interview to Fast Company, in which he pressed the company’s point of view even further.  And, in a letter sent Monday, a number of Apple-backed nonprofits urged the House Judiciary Committee to reject the bills.

As if that wasn’t enough, Apple CEO Tim Cook supposedly put in a call to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, voicing his concerns.

Cupertino’s intense lobbying could still pay off. However, based on today’s news, Apple certainly has a bit to worry about.