iPhone App Makers Questioned in Apple Antitrust Probe: Report

February 4, 2020 Updated: February 4, 2020

App developers for Apple, one of the four major multinational technology companies facing antitrust probes, are being questioned by the Justice Department, according to a new report.

The chief executive of the app developer Mobicip told Reuters he was interviewed by a U.S. investigator in November. Suren Ramasubbu said he was asked about the company’s interactions with Apple.

Ramasubbu said the Mobicip app was temporarily removed from the iPhone app store last year for a failure to meet requirements imposed by Apple. The app has nearly a million users worldwide and allows parents to control what their children see on their iPhones.

An unidentified source also told Reuters that the Justice Department has contacted a handful of app developers as part of their investigation, in what is reportedly the first indication of what officials are pursuing as part of their probe of Apple.

FacebookGoogle, and Amazon are the three other big tech companies that are facing antitrust reviews. President Donald Trump has accused some of these companies of suppressing and censoring political speech, particularly conservative speech.

A congressional committee and subcommittee are investigating all four companies, even as the Justice Department (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission are reviewing one or more of the companies. The probes extend down to the state level as well, with dozens of state attorneys general scrutinizing the practices of Facebook and Google in separate cases.

“If it’s not unprecedented, it’s something that hasn’t happened in many decades,” John E. Lopatka, an antitrust scholar and a distinguished professor of law at Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law, told The Epoch Times in December, referring to the number of probes.

Attorney General William Barr said on Dec. 10, 2019, that he hoped to have the DOJ investigations completed “some time next year.” In July 2019, the department announced that its antitrust division was “reviewing whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.”

A spokesperson for Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times; the company pointed Reuters to a statement on its website that says its app store was designed to hold apps, “to a high standard for privacy, security, and content.”

“Since 2016, we have removed over 1.4 million apps from the App Store because they have not been updated or don’t work on our most current operating systems,” the site says.

Apple’s ability to do just that has been a point of contention in the courtroom. The company was accused in lawsuits last year of abusing its clout in the app market. In one case, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the go-ahead last May to an antitrust lawsuit that accused Apple of forcing consumers to overpay for iPhone software applications.

Barr told the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in December that the investigation is “moving very quickly.”

“We’re talking very broadly with people and getting a lot of input from people in the industry and experts and so forth,” he said.

“I’d like to have it completed some time next year. I think it’s important to move quickly on things,” he said. “These things have a cost to the marketplace and businesses. I think at some point, the government has to fish or cut bait.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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