Opinion

Congress Should Open the App Store to Competition

Senate subcommittee hearing puts a spotlight on Apple’s anti-competitive practices

Smartphones have evolved into something so much more than, well, a phone. Thanks to the ingenuity and leadership of app developers around the world, we use our mobile devices in almost every aspect of our lives. We use apps to find the best sushi near us, get directions to the restaurant, meet the perfect dinner companion and play a game while we wait for them to arrive. We trade stocks, make doctors’ appointments, book hotel rooms and flights, compose music and create art and share pictures of our kids and puppies.

But this comes at a cost — a higher one than most people realize. Because of the anti-competitive practices of app store gatekeepers like Apple, iPhone and iPad users are paying more for services in their apps, and they suffer from less innovation and choice as a result of an unfair app marketplace.

Thankfully, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights is holding a hearing today to shine a light on these harmful app store practices.

The Coalition for App Fairness was formed last year with the goal of holding Apple and other tech gatekeepers accountable for these practices and to advocate for fair access to and treatment in the app ecosystem. Our 56 members represent app developers of all sizes across the country and around the world. App fairness legislation has been introduced in state capitals from Phoenix to Providence, and European hearings will soon take place in Brussels.

Today, our broad coalition will have the opportunity to make our voice heard in Washington. We are grateful that three of our members, Spotify, Match Group, and Tile, were invited to testify and share their stories with lawmakers and the American people.

We also appreciate the strong, bipartisan response from the subcommittee’s chairwoman, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and ranking member Mike Lee (R-Utah), when Apple initially refused the invitation to appear before this important panel. Their successful efforts to get Apple back to the table will enable lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to ask Apple important questions about their business practices and the harm caused to American consumers and businesses.

At the hearing, we expect Apple to make the same excuses for its behavior as it has in the past. Apple consistently says that it’s a champion of its users, as well as the privacy and security of its products. But as our members will share today, these claims do not hold water, and are merely used to justify actions to undermine competitors and strengthen Apple’s monopoly position.

For example, we expect Apple to claim it prohibits consumers from downloading apps outside of the app store to protect their security. However, Apple’s personal computers and laptops have always allowed direct download of apps or third-party software to be installed — and Macs are pretty secure.

Apple’s inconsistently applied standards are all the more obvious thanks to media reports exposing how scam apps continue to find new victims through the app store, while legitimate businesses are shut out. It is no wonder that one Apple engineer compared the App Store’s actual security standards to “bringing a plastic butter knife to a gun fight.” Consumers would be better off if Apple spent more time fighting actual scams than undermining its competition.

Apple also cites strict data privacy and security standards for keeping apps — many of which directly compete with Apple products — out of the App Store. The irony is that Apple’s selective enforcement of these standards actually hurts consumers: It is the App Store user who ultimately suffers from the lack of choice, the loss of innovation and the higher prices for services that are a direct result of Apple’s business practices.

While Apple deserves credit for its part in developing the app ecosystem and the devices that support it, the American consumer bears the burden when one company has such dominant control over an entire market. We hope today’s hearing will jumpstart conversations in Congress about how to protect consumers and promote a fair market for this growing segment of the American economy. The biggest beneficiaries will be small businesses and the American people.

 

Meghan DiMuzio is executive director of The Coalition for App Fairness, an independent nonprofit organization founded by industry-leading companies to advocate for freedom of choice and fair competition across the app ecosystem.

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