A pair of bills passing through Congress would force some of the biggest tech companies to cede control over how people find and use mobile apps, leading to increased competition and lower prices. But Big Tech companies, particularly Apple, want to scare people with dire warnings that the bills would put their security at risk.
Tellingly, Big Tech companies aren’t so vocal about other things jeopardized by the bills – their monopolies on app stores and their ability to make more money from mobile customers and app developers. apps.
The pro-competitive bills — S. 2992, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and S. 2710, the Open App Markets Act — would open up the biggest app stores, including those of Apple and Apple. Google, forcing them to allow competing third-party apps stores and alternative channels for in-app payments. The bills would also prevent the biggest app store operators from favoring their own apps over those of their competitors.
iPhone users would have the freedom to install cheaper third-party apps and choose to buy from third-party app stores. While some alternative app stores may have a higher volume of malicious apps, others may take a stronger approach to security and privacy than Apple – an approach that isn’t limited by will. improve the results of a monopolist.
Alternative app stores or app verification services might also offer important security and privacy-enhancing apps that Apple has banned on iOS devices.
Nothing in the bills would prevent Apple and Google from auditing the privacy and security of apps on their phones or prevent them from offering new protections. So, because they trust Apple’s app verification and are happy with the apps Apple allows them to download, many iPhone users will choose to stick with the App Store. For these users, nothing will change under these bills.
The choice would be theirs. But Apple doesn’t want that. He wants to decide what and how users can buy mobile apps. And it’s not just because the company cares about user privacy and security, which it does.
No, it’s also because Apple wants to protect its monopoly profits. Apple gets a 30% cut from what users pay for an app, a cost for developers that is passed on to consumers. Locking users and developers into the App Store is helping push Apple’s profit margins on the service into the stratosphere – over 70% by some estimates. You don’t have to be naïve to think that such a boon, and not just security concerns, motivates Apple.
In 2020, for example, Apple blocked Basecamp, an app development software company, from making major security patches to its new paid messaging service HEY because it violated App Store rules. The fine ” ? HEY developers did not route users’ subscription payments through Apple to ensure Apple received its 30% cut. Apple threatened HEY that until changes were made, security updates would be blocked. And this despite the fact that HEY follows the same payment path that Netflix and Amazon have always used. Following a public pressure campaign and negative press, Apple relented and allowed security patches to continue, but other app innovators face the same threat.
Apple’s assertions that letting users have more choice would endanger them are the same old paternalistic view of a market we saw AT&T embrace when it sought to maintain its mid-twentieth-century monopoly on telecommunications. The country has rejected such paternalistic arguments in the past. Not Apple.
In Epic Games v. Apple, a lawsuit in which the maker of Fortnite alleges that Apple has an illegal monopoly in the distribution of iOS apps, Apple claims that only its full control over app distribution and in-app payments can protect users. users. Yet it prohibits apps and features that would meet a wider range of security and privacy needs, such as VPN apps for international travelers and apps that tell the user if their device has been jailbroken. (EFF filed a friend of the court brief in the case siding with Epic.)
While the judge in Epic Games v. Apple refused to conclude that Apple was a monopoly, it recognized that things had to change. She wouldn’t let Apple delay enforcing a California court ruling that the company can no longer ban developers from pointing to other payment methods besides Apple’s own payment systems. She also embraced the idea that Apple could verify the security of iOS apps while allowing iPhone users to obtain mobile apps from other sources that also control security and privacy.
Monopoly control is not the way to ensure user safety. Competition, not walled gardens, is the best way to create better and safer products. Apple’s alarmism that competition would prevent it from addressing security is disingenuous, because monopolistic control over application distribution is simply not necessary to protect users. In fact, it makes users less secure. Congress should see through Apple’s attempts to foment fear of a world where it doesn’t have full control over the App Store experience for iPhone customers and pass these pro-competition bills. Users can choose and Security.