We need App Store competition, not 1960s-style Apple monopoly – TechCrunch

A couple of bills passing through Congress will force some of the biggest tech companies to relinquish control over how people find and use mobile apps, leading to more competition and lower prices. But big tech companies, especially Apple, want to scare people with dire warnings that bills will jeopardize their security.

Frankly, the big tech companies aren’t very vocal about other things that are at stake with billing — their app store monopolies and the ability to make more money from mobile customers and app developers.

Pro competition bills — S. 2992, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, and S. 2710, the Open App Markets Act — would open up the largest app stores, including Apple and Google, by requiring them to allow third-party competitor app stores and alternative channels for payments within application. Billing will also prevent the largest App Store operators from favoring their own apps over competitors’ apps.

iPhone users are free to install less expensive third-party apps and choose to shop at third-party app stores. While some alternative app stores may have more malicious apps, others may take a stronger approach to security and privacy than Apple — one that isn’t just motivated by the impulse to boost the bottom line of monopolistic companies.

Alternative app stores or app inspection services can also offer important security and privacy-enhancing apps that Apple has banned from iOS devices.

Nothing in the bills will stop Apple and Google from checking their phones’ apps for privacy and security, or prevent them from introducing new safeguards. So, because they trust Apple to check apps and are happy with the apps Apple lets them download, many iPhone users will choose to continue using the App Store. For these users, nothing will change under these bills.

The choice will be theirs. But Apple doesn’t want that. He wants to decide what and how users can purchase mobile apps. And it’s not just because the company is concerned with users’ privacy and security, which it really is.

No, this is also because Apple wants to protect its monopoly profits. Apple takes 30% off what users pay for an app, which is a cost to developers passed on to consumers. Locking users and developers into the App Store helps push Apple’s profit margins on the service into the stratosphere — to more than 70% by some estimates. We shouldn’t be naive in thinking that it’s such wealth, and not just security concerns, that motivates Apple.

In 2020, for example, Apple banned Basecamp, an app development software company, from making important security fixes to its new paid email service HEY because it violated App Store rules. “Violation”? HEY developers did not direct users’ subscription payments through Apple to ensure Apple gets a 30% discount. Apple HEY threatened that until the changes are made, security updates will be blocked. This was despite HEY following the same payment path that Netflix and Amazon have always used. After a public pressure campaign and negative press, Apple relented and allowed security reforms to continue, but other app creators face the same threat.

Apple’s claims that allowing users more choices would put them at risk is the same old paternalistic approach to the market that we saw AT&T embrace when it sought to maintain its telecommunications monopoly in the mid-20th century. The state has rejected these paternalistic arguments in the past. Not Apple.

In Epic Games v Apple, a lawsuit in which the Fortnite maker claims Apple has an illegal monopoly on iOS app distribution, Apple claims that only its complete control over app distribution and in-app payments can protect users. However, it blocks apps and features that would serve a wide range of security and privacy needs, such as VPN apps for international travelers and apps that tell the user if their devices have been jailbroken. (A friend of the court’s EFF filed a memorandum in the case with Epic.)

While the judge in Epic Games v. Apple refused to find that Apple had a monopoly, she recognized that things had to change. It has not allowed Apple to delay enforcement of a California court ruling that the company will no longer prevent developers from citing other means of payment besides Apple’s payment systems. It also embraced the idea that Apple could scan iOS apps for security but still allow iPhone users to get mobile apps from other sources that also scan for security and privacy.

Monopolistic control is not the way to ensure user security. Competition, not walled gardens, is the best way to produce better and safer products. Promoting Apple’s fear that competition will prevent it from tackling security is disingenuous, because monopoly control over app distribution is simply not necessary to protect users. In fact, it makes users less secure. Congress should look through Apple’s attempts to scare off a world where it doesn’t have complete control over the iPhone app store experience for iPhone customers, and pass these pro-competitive bills. Users can choose And Safety.

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