Add Russia to the list of countries investigating the App Store. It is reportedly looking into whether Apple’s policy forbidding iPhone developers from telling customers about alternate — and possibly cheaper — payment options is a violation of its antitrust laws.
The U.S. and other countries are asking that same question.
The United Kingdom is developing new antitrust measures and could fine tech giants up to 10% of their annual revenue for breaking the rules. The Digital Markets Unit’s plan is intended to make it easier for U.K. businesses — such as startups, news publishers and advertisers — to compete with established giants like Apple and Amazon.
“Tech has transformed our lives for the better, whether it’s helping us to stay in touch with our loved ones, share content, or access the latest news,” said Kwasi Kwarteng, the U.K.’s secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, in a press release Tuesday. “Nobody wants to see an unassailable monopoly, and our common sense reforms will help protect consumers, support ground-breaking new ideas and level the playing field for businesses.”
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.
Apple thinks five pieces of antitrust reform legislation could undermine innovation and competition in tech, as well as creating a “race to the bottom” for security and privacy. Apple laid out its concerns in a letter sent ahead of Wednesday’s meeting of the House Judiciary Committee to discuss the proposed laws.
The letter — sent to chairmen Jerrold Nadler and David Cicilline, and ranking members Jim Jordan and Ken Buck — lays out Apple’s arguments for why the government needs to reconsider the five bills.
Apple’s none too keen on sideloading, the process of allowing apps to be installed on iPhones and iPads from outside of the App Store. While some critics take issue with this as an example of Cupertino’s uncompromising monopolistic tendencies, Apple — unsurprisingly — has a different take.
In an interview with Fast Company, timed to coincide with publication of a white paper on the subject, Apple’s head of user privacy, Erik Neuenschwander, explains the company’s take.
Tim Cook reportedly got in touch with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in addition to other members of Congress, to voice his worries about possible antitrust legislation, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The Democrats are currently circulating drafts of antitrust bills that could affect the likes of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. If passed, these bills could impact Apple’s ability to own and operate its own App Store marketplace in the way it currently does.
In a letter sent Monday, a number of nonprofits — including ones connected to Apple, such as TechNet, the Consumer Technology Alliance, and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation — urged the House Judiciary Committee to reject the bills.
Germany’s antitrust watchdog said Monday it is launching an antitrust investigation to see whether Apple has a “paramount significance across markets.”
According to Reuters, the probe by Germany’s Federal Cartel Office was partly prompted by advertising and media industry complaints over Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature.
“Based on this first proceeding, the (FCO) intends to assess in more detail specific practices of Apple in a possible further proceeding,” notes the investigatory paperwork. “In this regard, the authority has received various complaints relating to potentially anti-competitive practices.”
Apple says it looks forward to “discussing our approach with the FCO and having an open dialogue about any of their concerns.”
The European Union vs. Apple
One of the leading countries in the European Union, Germany previously announced investigations into Facebook, Amazon and Google over different complaints. And given how much scrutiny the EU has placed Apple under, it’s no surprise to hear Germany begin its own investigation.
As governments around the world scrutinize Apple’s App Store policies, the U.S. Congress is pondering legislation that could stop the company from preinstalling default apps on iPhones.
Apple critics suggest that such a move would level the playing field and give smaller developers a chance to compete. But would it actually benefit consumers, the purported goal of such antitrust legislation?
I’m not sure it would. In fact, it might simply make owning an iPhone a lot less enjoyable.