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Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Antitrust Bill Targeting Big Tech

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to advance the Open App Markets Act, an antitrust bill that targets big tech.

Bill S.2710 addresses Apple and Google in particular, who oversee the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, which together mediate access to the vast majority of apps used by smartphone users.

House Bill 5017 is identical:

This bill establishes rules related to the operation of an app store by a covered company (i.e., the owner or controller of an app store with more than 50 million U.S. users).

An app is a software application or electronic service that may be run or directed by a user on a computer or mobile device. An app store is a publicly available website, software application, or other electronic services that distributes apps from third-party developers to users.

The bill prohibits a covered company from (1) requiring developers to use an in-app payment system owned or controlled by the company as a condition of distribution or accessibility, (2) requiring that pricing or conditions of sale be equal to or more favorable on its app store than another app store, or (3) taking punitive action against a developer for using or offering different pricing terms or conditions of sale through another in-app payment system or on another app store.

A covered company may not interfere with legitimate business communications between developers and users, use non-public business information from a third-party app to compete with the app, or unreasonably prefer or rank its own apps (or those of its business partners) over other apps.

The bill provides for enforcement of its provisions by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, as well as through suits brought by developers that are injured by reason of anything forbidden under the bill.

The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal, Amy Klobuchar, and Marsha Blackburn. The committee voted 20-2 to advance the legislation, with Senators John Cornyn and Thom Tillis being the only dissenting votes within the Judiciary Committee.

The new legislation is an attempt to curtail the power of the two major app store providers, who have a long history of using their domination of the market to exert power over information, content, and capital on the internet.

Apple temporarily banned both Tumblr and Telegram in 2018, claiming that they did so because of the availability of child pornography on these platforms (both have subsequently been reinstated in the App Store.) This action was the catalyst for Tumblr’s adoption of a universal ban on adult content, which was criticized by progressive media outlets.

Apple and Google have also used the app store as a tool of censorship for alternative media. Apps for Gab and Infowars have been banned by both platforms, whereas Parler was indefinitely removed from Google play and temporarily removed from the Apple App Store.

The app duopoly has also used its domination of the market to enlarge their own profits. In particular, Apple has been known to demand a significant fraction of the profits made through apps available on the app store, and even large companies are not immune from this restriction. In 2020, Facebook added a note to the checkout page for paid Facebook events, telling customers that Apple would take a 30 percent cut of the cost of entering these events. Facebook was forced to withdraw the note after pressure from Apple, which cited a policy against “irrelevant” information.

The new legislation will restrict app store providers from requiring the use of their payment systems for apps which are available on their stores. Furthermore, the bill restricts app store providers from privileging their own in-house apps over competitors.

Bipartisan lawmakers push to break up Big Tech with historic Antitrust Bills

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