As the Senate Judiciary Committee approaches enacting legislation that could loosen Big Tech's grip on consumers, Big Tech is expected to be outraged. Both Apple and Google have written letters publicly opposing new pieces of legislation, while a coalition of smaller technology companies has voiced their support.
Raaben comes in response to two pieces of proposed legislation: the U.S. Innovation and Choice Online Act, which prevents Big Tech from favoring their services over others, and the Open App Markets Act, which aims to promote competition in app stores.
Apple's senior director of government affairs, Tim Powderly, wrote a letter, seen by Bloomberg, to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amit Klobuchar (D-MN) Chairman of the Antitrust Committee, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) of the Panel, and Mike Lee (R-UT) of the Subcommittee legislation. Powderly says the bills, particularly the Open App Markets Act, would be detrimental to security in the App Store, as it would allow users to sideload apps, also known as downloading an app from a third-party source. Because these apps are located outside of Apple's ecosystem, they are not subject to the same security and safety standards that apps must meet in order to have a place in the App Store.
"After a tumultuous year witnessing numerous social media controversies, whistleblower accusations of long-ignored risks to children and ransomware attacks hampering critical infrastructure, it would be ironic if Congress responds by making it much harder to protect the privacy and security of Americans' personal entities, "Powderly writes." Unfortunately, that's what these bills would do. "
Downloading an app outside the App Store will not be subject to Apple's App Tracking Transparency (ATT) policy, which allows users to select the type of data (if any) that apps are allowed to track. Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said page loading "would ruin the security of the iPhone and many of the privacy initiatives we've built into the App Store, where we have nutrition tags for privacy and app tracking transparency, forcing people to get permission to track across apps. " Apple's senior vice president Craig Federighi has also spoken out against side-loading, saying it "undermines security and endangers people's data."
It’s also worth noting that Apple is currently collecting a 15 to 30 percent commission on all in-app purchases on apps downloaded from its App Store. The company is preventing developers from incorporating alternative payment processors precisely for this reason, the predominant problem behind the Epic v. Apple case. Apple recently admitted to the Dutch government to allow dating app developers to include other payment options, but the company says it will still take a commission from those purchases, and it is unclear how much that commission will be.
In its own post, Google made a similar case against "the legislation being debated in Parliament and the Senate", arguing that it would not be able to offer the "best" services to consumers if the antitrust laws were adopted. Since the U.S. Innovation and Choice Online Act would prevent Google from prioritizing its own services over others, the company argues that it may not be able to offer consumers the best online experience, as users may be affected by other apps that appear to be just is not as good as Google's.
The company says the legislation could harm "American technological leadership" by giving Americans "worse, less relevant and less useful versions of products like Google Search and Maps." Google also claims that it would prevent the company from integrating security features into its apps and services by default, such as its SafeBrowsing service and spam filters in Gmail and Chrome, which block pop-ups, viruses, and malware.
"We believe that updating technology regulations in areas such as privacy, artificial intelligence and the protection of children and families can bring real benefits. But breaking our products would not solve any of these problems," explains Kent Walker, President of Global affairs and legal chief at Google and Alphabet. "Instead, it would eliminate useful features, expose people to new privacy and security risks, and weaken U.S. technological leadership."
Like Apple, Google also charges developers a 15 to 30 percent commission on apps and in-app purchases. Dozens of states filed lawsuits against the company last year, citing practices that violated antitrust policies. Epic Games also sued Google in 2020, claiming that the company's payment restrictions on the Play Store constitute a monopoly.
But there are still more other voices, albeit slightly smaller than Apple and Google, expressing their support for the legislation. Companies including Wyze, Yelp, DuckDuckGo, and Tor Project issued a letter urging President Durbin and ranking Republican Grassley to vote "yes" to the U.S. law on innovation and online elections. The companies say Big Tech's dominance and "gatekeeper status" have prevented them "from competing on the merits."
"Dominant technology companies can: use manipulative design tactics to steer individuals away from rival services; limit competitors 'ability to interact on the platform; use non-public data for the benefit of companies' own services or products; make it impossible or complicated for users to change their default settings or services or uninstall apps, "the letter reads." These tactics not only harm competition, but also deprive consumers of the innovative offerings a vibrant market would provide. "
Last year, the House Judiciary Committee passed a package of six similar antitrust bills, none of which have been passed. The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to review the bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Choice Online Act later this week.