Legal Archive

EU accuses Apple of App Store antitrust violations

The European Commission is issuing antitrust charges against Apple over concerns about the company’s App Store practices. The Commission has found that Apple has broken EU competition rules with its App Store policies, following an initial complaint from Spotify back in 2019. Specifically, the Commission believes Apple has a “dominant position in the market for the distribution of music streaming apps through its App Store.” The EU has focused on two rules that Apple imposes on developers: the mandatory use of Apple’s in-app purchase system (for which Apple charges a 30 percent cut), and a rule forbidding app developers to inform users of other purchasing options outside of apps. The Commission has found that the 30 percent commission fee, or “Apple tax” as it’s often referred to, has resulted in higher prices for consumers. “Most streaming providers passed this fee on to end users by raising prices,” according to the European Commission. As predicted, and entirely reasonable. This is only the first step in the process, and Apple will have the opportunity to respond. If found guilty, Apple could face a fine of more than 22 billion euro, 10% of its annual revenue, or be forced to change its business model.

Apple will reportedly face EU antitrust charges this week

I’m linking to The Verge, since the original FT article is locked behind a paywall. The European Commission will issue antitrust charges against Apple over concerns about the company’s App Store practices, according to a report from the Financial Times. The commission has been investigating whether Apple has broken EU competition rules with its App Store policies, following an initial complaint from Spotify back in 2019 over Apple’s 30 percent cut on subscriptions. The European Commission opened up two antitrust investigations into Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay practices last year, and the Financial Times only mentions upcoming charges on the App Store case. It’s not clear yet what action will be taken. I’m glad both the US and EU are turning up the heat under Apple (and the other major technology companies), since their immense market power and clear-cut cases of abuse have to end. I am a strict proponent of doing what the United States used to be quite good at, and that’s breaking Apple and Google up into smaller companies forced to compete with one another and the rest of the market. The US has done it countless times before, and they should do it again. In this specific case, Apple should be divided up into Mac hardware, mobile hardware, software (macOS, iOS, and applications), and services. This would breath immense life into the market, and would create countless opportunities for others to come in and compete. The US has taken similar actions with railroads, oil, airplanes, and telecommunications, and the technology market should be no different.

US House committee approves blueprint for big tech crackdown

The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee formally approved a report accusing Big Tech companies of buying or crushing smaller firms, Representative David Cicilline’s office said in a statement on Thursday. With the approval during a marathon, partisan hearing, the more than 400-page staff report will become an official committee report, and the blueprint for legislation to rein in the market power of the likes of Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc. This could be potentially really good news, but let’s just say that US Congress hasn’t exactly been the most reliable governmental body, so I won’t cheer until Biden signs a dotted line.

Arizona Senate skips vote on controversial bill that would regulate Apple and Google app stores

The Arizona State Senate was scheduled to vote an unprecedented and controversial bill on Wednesday that would have imposed far-reaching changes on how Apple and Google operate their respective mobile app stores, specifically by allowing alternative in-app payment systems. But the vote never happened, having been passed over on the schedule without explanation. The Verge watched every other bill on the schedule be debated and voted on over the senate’s live stream, but Arizona HB2005, listed first on the agenda, never came up. One notable Apple critic is now accusing the iPhone maker of stepping in to stop the vote, saying the company hired a former chief of staff to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to broker a deal that prevented the bill from being heard in the Senate and ultimately voted on. This is after the legislation, an amendment to the existing HB2005 law, passed the Arizona House of Representatives earlier this month in a landmark 31-29 vote. Corruption and bribery at work.

Arizona advances bill forcing Apple and Google to allow alternative payment options

The Arizona House of Representatives just passed landmark app store legislation in a 31-29 vote on Wednesday that could have far-reaching consequences for Apple and Google and their respective mobile operating systems. The legislation, a sweeping amendment to Arizona’s existing HB2005, prevents app store operators from forcing a developer based in the state to use a preferred payment system, putting up a significant roadblock to Apple and Google’s ability to collect commissions on in-app purchases and app sales. It will now head to the state senate, where it must pass before its sent to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. A lot of bribes are going to flow from Apple and Google to Arizona, since if a law like this passes, it could have devastating consequences for these two companies. Obviously, I hope it passes, but I have my doubts local Arizona politicians will be able to withstand those juicy, juicy bribes.

Apple subpoenas Valve as part of its legal battle with Epic: Valve fights back

A new court filing has revealed that, as part of the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Epic Games, Apple subpoenaed Valve Software in November 2020, demanding it provide huge amounts of commercial data about Steam sales and operations going over multiple years. Apple is demanding Valve – who is not a party to this lawsuit in any way, shape, or form – provide Apple with detailed data and information about, initially, every single game sold on Steam, including “names, prices, configurations and dates of every product on Steam, as well as detailed accounts of exactly how much money Steam makes and how it is all divvied-up”. Apple later scaled this down to just the top 600 games on Steam. Valve is not having any of it, of course. Valve’s argument goes on to explain to the court that it is not a competitor in the mobile space (this is, after all, a dispute that began with Fortnite on iOS), and makes the point that “Valve is not Epic, and Fortnite is not available on Steam.” It further says that Apple is using Valve as a shortcut to a huge amount of third party data that rightfully belongs to those third parties. The conclusion of Valve’s argument calls for the court to throw Apple’s subpoena out. “Somehow, in a dispute over mobile apps, a maker of PC games that does not compete in the mobile market or sell ‘apps’ is being portrayed as a key figure. It’s not. The extensive and highly confidential information Apple demands about a subset of the PC games available on Steam does not show the size or parameters of the relevant market and would be massively burdensome to pull together. Apple’s demands for further production should be rejected.” This feels weird and wrong in so many ways, so much so that it almost feels as if Apple is trying to gain insight into a massive market – PC games – that it is not a part of – yet. The amount and detailed nature of the data Apple is requesting is so bizarre and over the top, that the only logical conclusion I can draw is that Apple wants this data for potential competitive purposes, and not for legal purposes at all.

Google, Facebook tell SCOTUS it should be harder for you to sue them

Suing technology firms when they mess up is already hard, especially over privacy violations. Now, Facebook, Google, and the trade groups representing all the big tech firms are asking the Supreme Court to make it even harder for class actions to pursue cases against them. Facebook, Google, and all the others submitted a filing (PDF) to the Supreme Court this week basically arguing that if you cannot prove the specific extent to which their screwup injured you, you should not have any grounds to be part of a lawsuit against them. They are already pretty much invulnerable, but of course, they want even more protections than their sheer size, wealth, influence, and monopoly positions already give them. How surprising.

Google, Facebook had illegal deal to rig ad market, Texas says

Alphabet Inc.’s Google reached an illegal deal with Facebook Inc. to maintain a chokehold over the lucrative digital advertising market, according to a lawsuit filed by 10 states led by Texas. The complaint, which targets Google’s central role in the buying and selling of display ads across the web, was filed in federal court in Texas Wednesday. The regulatory onslaught is here, and I have more than enough popcorn in the house to enjoy myself.

Cydia files antitrust lawsuit against Apple

A new lawsuit brought by one of Apple’s oldest foes seeks to force the iPhone maker to allow alternatives to the App Store, the latest in a growing number of cases that aim to curb the tech giant’s power. The lawsuit was filed on Thursday by the maker of Cydia, a once-popular app store for the iPhone that launched in 2007, before Apple created its own version. The lawsuit alleges that Apple used anti-competitive means to nearly destroy Cydia, clearing the way for the App Store, which Cydia’s attorneys say has a monopoly over software distribution on iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system. “Were it not for Apple’s anticompetitive acquisition and maintenance of an illegal monopoly over iOS app distribution, users today would actually be able to choose how and where to locate and obtain iOS apps, and developers would be able to use the iOS app distributor of their choice,” the lawsuit alleges. Apple will fight lawsuits like this all the way to the Supreme Court if it has to, but I think there’s no saving this one. Eventually, somewhere, either in the US, EU, Japan, or even China, some regulator or court will demand the end of the App Store monopoly, and once the wall’s been breached in one jurisdiction, it will benefit the rest of the world.

U.S. and states say Facebook illegally crushed competition, sue Facebook

The Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states accused Facebook on Wednesday of becoming a social media monopoly by buying up its rivals to illegally squash competition, and said the deals that turned the social network into a behemoth should be unwound. The prosecutors called for Facebook to break off Instagram and WhatsApp and for new restrictions on future deals, in what amounted to some of the most severe penalties regulators can demand. I hope it gets that far. Next on the list? Apple and Google.

European Parliament votes for right to repair

In a landmark move, the European Parliament voted today to support consumers’ Right to Repair. The resolution was adopted with 395 in favour and just 94 against, with 207 abstentions. The vote calls for the EU Commission to “develop and introduce mandatory labelling, to provide clear, immediately visible and easy-to-understand information to consumers on the estimated lifetime and reparability of a product at the time of purchase.” Good.

US accuses Google of illegally protecting monopoly

The Justice Department accused Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the government’s most significant challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation and one that could reshape the way consumers interact with the internet. In a much-anticipated complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, the agency accused Google of locking up deals with giant partners like Apple and throttling competition through exclusive business contracts and agreements. While the case seems rushed for political reasons, it at least breathes some form of life into the United States’ dying antitrust laws when it comes to the major technology companies. It’s far too early to tell if anything serious will come of this, as the related court cases and legal maneuvering will take many, many years – and the upcoming US presidential elections could play a role, too. Google, for its part, beats the usual drum all anticompetitive companies accused of antitrust violations beat: we are the best, people choose to use us, there are enough alternatives, our deals are not illegal, others do it too, and so on. These are only the premeditated opening salvos to a very long war, and I’m sure we’ll have tons of fun covering this fight for years to come.

Congress releases blockbuster tech antitrust report

The House Judiciary Committee has released its conclusions on whether Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google are violating antitrust law. Its 449-page report criticizes these companies for buying competitors, preferencing their own services, and holding outsized power over smaller businesses that use their platforms. “Our investigation revealed an alarming pattern of business practices that degrade competition and stifle innovation,” said committee member Val Demings (D-FL). “Competition must reward the best idea, not the biggest corporate account. We will take steps necessary to hold rulebreakers accountable.” The report is scathing when it comes to the major technology companies and their clear pattern of anti-competitive behaviour and antritrust abuse. Although these four corporations differ in important ways, studying their business practices has revealed common problems. First, each platform now serves as a gatekeeper over a key channel of distribution. By controlling access to markets, these giants can pick winners and losers throughout our economy. They not only wield tremendous power, but they also abuse it by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them. Second, each platform uses its gatekeeper position to maintain its market power. By controlling the infrastructure of the digital age, they have surveilled other businesses to identify potential rivals, and have ultimately bought out, copied, or cut off their competitive threats. And, finally, these firms have abused their role as intermediaries to further entrench and expand their dominance. Whether through self-preferencing, predatory pricing, or exclusionary conduct, the dominant platforms have exploited their power in order to become even more dominant. Apple, Google, Amazong, and Facebook are likened to oil barons and railroad tycoons from the American 19th century, and advises to break them up into separate entities. Countless other safeguards and measures are suggested, too, all to create and maintain a level playing field in the technology industry and sectors adjacent to it. While I have my doubts US Congress possesses the intellectual honesty and, quite frankly, grip on reality required to do anything with this report, they seem like much-needed recommendations that should’ve been implemented yesterday.

The Supreme Court is taking on Google and Oracle one last time

Ten years after Oracle first sued Google over the code in the Android platform, the two tech giants are finally facing off in the Supreme Court. Since then, there have been three trials and two appeals. Billions of dollars are at stake; many millions have been likely spent on a parade of seasoned litigators, expert witnesses, and bizarre trial exhibits intended to explain programming to non-technical juries. All this may be coming to an anticlimactic close on Wednesday morning, with a teleconference Supreme Court oral argument in the middle of a pandemic. Google must win this case. Not because Google somehow deserves it, but because Oracle and its CEO are the scum of the earth dead set on destroying the very foundations of programming.

The European Union wants to force OEMs to let users uninstall bloatware

Bloatware and carrier phones: name a more iconic duo. The number of preinstalled apps on some smartphones has grown so much these days that people still come to our forums to flash stock Android builds to get rid of the bloat. Bloatware is often preloaded on smartphones by carriers or even smartphone manufacturers themselves. They are often annoying services you will probably never use but you probably can’t uninstall, either. Since carrier devices are often fairly locked down, most users can’t get rid of these unwanted apps without mucking around with ADB. Thankfully, the European Union has a plan: It wants to force smartphone manufacturers to let users uninstall the bloatware that comes preloaded on these devices, according to the Financial Times. This measure is part of a much broader act aimed at reducing the power of big technology companies, especially when it comes to the use of advertising data and platform owners’ power over companies doing business on said platforms. I hope this gets passed, since using ADB to remove bloatware can get a little tedious.

Facebook says it will stop operating in Europe if regulators don’t back down

Facebook has threatened to pack up its toys and go home if European regulators don’t back down and let the social network get its own way. In a court filing in Dublin, Facebook said that a decision by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) would force the company to pull up stakes and leave the 410 million people who use Facebook and photo-sharing service Instagram in the lurch. The decision Facebook’s referring to is a preliminary order handed down last month to stop the transfer of data about European customers to servers in the U.S., over concerns about U.S. government surveillance of the data. …is this supposed to be a threat? Because it sounds more like a gift to me. Please, Zuck, go home! I think we here in Europe will do just fine without your criminal enterprise.

Epic judge will protect Unreal Engine – but not Fortnite

Epic Games just won a temporary restraining order against Apple — at least in part. Effective immediately, Apple can’t retaliate against the company by terminating the developer account used to support the company’s Unreal Engine. But in the same ruling, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers decided that Apple will not be required to bring Fortnite — which it had banned after Epic added an in-app payment system in violation of Apple’s rules — back to the App Store. I think this is a fair order. Epic willingly and purposefully broke the agreement it entered into with Apple to elicit a response and strengthen their lawsuit case, and Apple is well within its right to remove Fortnite as a result. However, for Apple to then also block and remove everything else related to Epic is clearly retaliatory and petty, and the judge seemed to have seen right through Apple (and Epic’s) nonsense. Of course, this is technically not part of the actual lawsuit filed by Epic that started all of this – these are the opening salvos in what will be a long, drawn-out fight.

Fortnite Apple row: Microsoft backs Epic in court filing

Microsoft said denying Epic access to Apple’s developer tools would “prevent Epic from supporting Unreal Engine on iOS and macOS, and will place Unreal Engine and those game creators that have built, are building, and may build games on it at a substantial disadvantage”. “Apple’s discontinuation of Epic’s ability to develop and support Unreal Engine for iOS or macOS will harm game creators and gamers,” it added. Microsoft uses the Unreal engine for iOS and macOS games, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Microsoft would back Epic. At least – it shouldn’t come as a surprise if you know how the gaming industry works, which Apple people obviously do not.

Apple threatens to terminate Epic’s access to iOS and Mac developer tools

Apple will terminate Epic’s inclusion in the Apple Developer Program, a membership that’s necessary to distribute apps on iOS devices or use Apple developer tools, if the company does not “cure your breaches” to the agreement within two weeks, according to a letter from Apple that was shared by Epic. Epic won’t be able to notarize Mac apps either, a process that could make installing Epic’s software more difficult or block it altogether. Apple requires that all apps are notarized before they can be run on newer versions of macOS, even if they’re distributed outside the App Store. Epic has filed for a preliminary injunction against Apple, asking the court to stop the company from cutting it off. Epic says it will be “irreparably harmed long before final judgment comes” if it does not obtain the injunction. “Apple’s actions will irreparably damage Epic’s reputation among Fortnite users and be catastrophic for the future of the separate Unreal Engine business,” Epic writes. Epic also asks for Fortnite — with its lowered prices and alternate payment option — to be returned to the App Store. A bully is bad. A self-righteous bully surrounded by an internal and external army of yes-men is a million times worse. I sadly don’t expect much from the United States Congress, but I hope the European Commission is keeping very close tabs on Apple’s abusive anti-consumer behaviour here. And the general reminder: you might’ve paid a grand for your iPhone, but it really isn’t your iPhone. It’s Apple’s, and they, and only they, get to decide how you use it.