The Biden administration on Wednesday urged Congress to open up app stores to increased competition as part of a sweeping government-wide plan to tackle corporate consolidation across industries.
The announcement came through a long-awaited Commerce Department report published Wednesday accusing Apple and Google of running online app markets that harm developers and consumers. Officials specifically called out how the companies restrict app downloads to their proprietary stores and provide developers little transparency into their review processes.
“From finding directions to chatting with loved ones, apps are a critical tool for consumers and an essential part of doing business online,” Alan Davidson, assistant commerce secretary for communications and information and NTIA administrator, said in a statement Wednesday. “It is more important than ever that the market for mobile apps remains competitive.”
“It is more important than ever that the market for mobile apps remains competitive.”
The report calls on Congress to introduce new legislation and for agencies like the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to ramp up enforcement to boost competition in the online app market. The recommendations include banning stores from self-preferencing a company’s own apps and allowing consumers to download software from alternative platforms.
Many of the Commerce Department’s recommendations would provide solutions that parties like Fortnite developer Epic Games have been demanding for years. Epic sued Apple and Google for violating US antitrust laws in 2020, making many of the same claims the Commerce Department outlines in its report. One of Epic’s biggest asks of Apple and Google was to allow users to download its apps from a third-party store, pointing out the sometimes 30 percent fees the companies charge developers for transactions.
Despite the September 2021 court decision on the suit mainly siding with Apple, Commerce Department officials also urged Congress to ban app store leaders from requiring developers to use their own in-app payment systems.
Many of these solutions aren’t new to lawmakers. Over the last few years, members of the House and Senate antitrust subcommittees have led lengthy investigations into dominant tech firms like Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Google. They’ve introduced measures like the Open App Markets Act, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), that would implement many of the policies the Commerce Department called for Wednesday.
Klobuchar’s bill, which would ban Apple and Google from requiring developers to use their stores, had bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, but leaders never brought the legislation up for a vote on the floor. Wednesday’s Biden administration announcement could boost momentum behind the bill, especially as this new Congress begins carving out its plans for the next two years.
Last August, Apple moved to resolve a class action lawsuit posed by US developers by overhauling some of its controversial App Store policies. These changes allowed app developers to contact consumers over email to alert them to outside payment methods, but consumers are required to opt in to those communications before they receive them.