At a time when divisions between Republicans and Democrats can seem as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon, both sides of the aisle increasingly agree on the need to hold Big Tech accountable. One area of growing consensus is opening the mobile app marketplace to real competition and preventing app store gatekeepers from stacking the decks against rival app developers and their customers.
The progress and support for this effort can be seen in Arizona with bipartisan momentum for House Bill 2200. It can also be seen in Washington with the recent passage of the Open App Markets Act in the Senate Judiciary Committee by an overwhelming vote of 20-2. This targeted legislation garnered the support of conservatives like U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley – as well as liberal Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Dick Durbin.
In Arizona and Washington, both sides recognize that legislation is needed to strengthen the app economy for developers while also serving consumers through increased competition and accountability. These efforts are complementary in a federal system.
Lawmakers should also not be fooled by the scare tactics, such as those in a recent op-ed on this site, that are increasingly used by gatekeepers to justify their top-down control of the app marketplace.
For example, the authors claim that opening up the app store to competition in app distribution and payment options would pose security risks to users. However, Apple already allows payment options for users on some apps, and already allows direct downloads outside of the app store on its Mac desktop and laptop computers. There is no reason consumers should not have the same freedom and choice on the “computers in their pockets” that they already have with the computers on their desks.
Further, device security for iPhones and iPads is built in through numerous security measures including data encryption, firewall, and antivirus features as well as a “sandbox” model that limits apps’ access to the phone’s resources. The App Store review provides marginal – if any – additional security protections, and certainly does not justify Apple’s many anti-competitive practices.
Apple uses these pretextual claims about security to give its own products and services an unfair advantage over competing apps by imposing roadblocks and fees that can undermine the user experience and increase costs on consumers and developers. Apple even uses its rules to secure critical data and technology from third-party developers, which it has used to launch competing products and services.
Arizonans would be surprised to know that developers do not always have the ability to manage customer payments within their own app. And that developers are restricted in communicating with their users, hurting their ability to provide the best service and experience. App users should always have a choice in how they pay for services, install software, and use their mobile devices.
Proposed state legislation has also exposed the extreme lengths app store gatekeepers will go to prevent competition in the digital marketplace. Apple, now worth nearly $3 trillion, has spent gobs of money to intimidate and threaten state lawmakers from supporting app store reform bills. Apple’s ability to use its largesse to silence debate and prevent legislation from coming to a vote is bad for democracy. Similarly, its market power and top-down control of the app marketplace are terrible for innovation, competition, and consumers.
Change will only come to the mobile app market when legislators, regulators, and courts take bold action to hold gatekeepers accountable and impose strong enforcement provisions to prevent anti-competitive practices even among the largest and wealthiest companies in the world. We look forward to continuing our work to support lawmakers and policymakers at every level of government in the United States and around the world to create a better digital marketplace for all.