Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have partnered to deliver an antitrust bill addressing Big Tech, which is due to be debated by the Senate on Thursday.
Bill S.2710, the Open App Markets Act, targets Apple and Google in particular, two companies that mediate access to apps for the great majority of smartphone users through the App Store and Google Play Store, respectively. The proposed law would prevent companies from privileging their own in-house applications over competitors and open up avenues for third-party app stores.
App store access has been one of the primary means by which digital industries exert control over platforms they do not own. At different points in 2018, Apple banned both Tumblr and Telegram, citing the availability of child pornography on these platforms as the reason for their removal. Both have since been reinstated in the App Store. This action was widely seen as the catalyst for Tumblr’s adoption of a universal ban on adult content, which was criticized by progressive media outlets.
In recent years, alternate platforms such as Gab and Parler have faced exclusion from the two major app stores. Gab has been permanently removed from both major app stores, whereas Parler was temporarily removed from the App Store and indefinitely removed on Google Play in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol incident. The InfoWars app has also been banned by both platforms.
Even giants like Facebook and Twitter are at the mercy of Apple and Google to provide access to their applications. In 2020, Facebook added a note to the checkout page for paid Facebook events, saying that Apple would take a 30 percent cut of the cost of entering these events. The note was removed as a result of pressure from Apple, which cited a policy against “irrelevant” information.
Previously there has been virtually no oversight for these companies as they decide which apps will be available to smartphone users—an oversight which the new bill seeks to address.
Apple has responded to the looming legislation with a letter addressed to multiple U.S. senators, which was obtained by 9to5Mac. In the letter, the company alleges that the Open App Markets Act and the American Innovation and Choice Online Act will compromise the security of users on their platforms and make consumers vulnerable to malware attacks.
“These bills will reward those who have been irresponsible with users’ data and empower bad actors who would target consumers with malware, ransomware, and scams,” says the letter, signed by Apple executive Timothy Powderly. “The most glaring problem with these bills is the risk they pose to the privacy and security of Americans’ personal devices.”