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Senators target Apple’s App Store exclusivity in new bill

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It would allow developers to use their own payment systems

There’s a new bill introduced in the Senate Wednesday targeting the power dominant tech firms like Apple and Google have over the app store market.

The bipartisan “Open App Markets Act,” introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) would ban app stores from forcing developers to use the store’s payment systems. It would also bar companies from punishing developers that offer lower prices on a separate app store or through their own payment systems, along the lines of Apple’s public dispute with Epic Games. Notably, the bill would also make it unlawful for companies like Apple to use non-public data from their stores to build competing products against companies using their service.

“For years, Apple and Google have squashed competitors and kept consumers in the dark—pocketing hefty windfalls while acting as supposedly benevolent gatekeepers of this multi-billion dollar market,” Blumenthal said in a statement Wednesday. “This bipartisan bill will help break these tech giants’ ironclad grip, open the app economy to new competitors, and give mobile users more control over their own devices.”

An Apple spokesperson responded to the bill in a statement to The Verge Wednesday, writing, “Since our founding, we’ve always put our users at the center of everything we do, and the App Store is the cornerstone of our work to connect developers and customers in a way that is safe and trustworthy.” The spokesperson continued, “At Apple, our focus is on maintaining an App Store where people can have confidence that every app must meet our rigorous guidelines and their privacy and security is protected.”

Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hauled in representatives from companies like Spotify, Tile, and Match Group, a dating app company, to explain how Apple and Google’s app store policies and fees harm their businesses.

Specifically, Tile’s General Counsel Kirsten Daru said that once Apple decided to make its own competing item-tracking device, the company made it more difficult for Tile products to work on the devices. Match’s Chief Legal Officer Jared Sine also said that app store fees are the company’s single largest expense.

“We have worked toward creating a fairer and more competitive app marketplace for both developers and consumers,” said The Coalition for App Fairness, which counts Epic Games as a member, in a statement Wednesday. “The bipartisan Open App Markets Act is a step towards holding big tech companies accountable for practices that stifle competition for developers in the U.S. and around the world.

Still, tech-backed think tanks like Chamber for Progress argue that the bill could pose a safety risk for consumers. “This bill is a finger in the eye of anyone who bought an iPhone or Android because the phones and their app stores are safe, reliable, and easy to use,” Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich said Wednesday. “I don’t see any consumers marching in Washington demanding that Congress make their smartphones dumber.”

Last year, Fortnite creator Epic Games challenged the app store model with lawsuits Apple and Google, asking for a court-ordered injunction that would have similar effects to the proposed bill. A federal judge is currently reviewing the Apple case to determine whether the company violated antitrust law by implementing these policies. Nearly 40 state attorneys general have also sued Google over its app store model.

Updated 8/11/21 at 3:38PM ET: Added a statement from Apple.