US bipartisan bill targets big tech app store dominance

The proposed law aims to promote competition and strengthen consumer protections within the app market

A group of three bipartisan senators have introduced a bill that would protect competition and strengthen consumer protections within the app market, as the Biden administration continues to try and curb the power of big tech through antitrust legislation.

Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Amy Klobuchar, and Republican Marsha Blackburn, introduced the Open App Markets Act on 11 August, saying that Google and Apple have “gatekeeper control” of the two dominant mobile operating systems and their app stores allow them to exclusively dictate the terms of the app market.

The bill would protect developers’ rights to tell consumers about lower prices and offer competitive pricing, and open up competitive avenues for startup apps, third party app stores, and payment services, while also protecting the sideloading of apps.

It also looks to prevent app stores from disadvantaging developers and give consumers more control over their devices.

“Apple and Google want to prevent developers and consumers from using third-party app stores that would threaten their bottom line,” said Blackburn. “Their anticompetitive conduct is a direct affront to a free and fair marketplace. Senators Blumenthal, Klobuchar, and I are committed to ensuring U.S. consumers and small businesses are not punished by big tech dominance.”

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr supported the introduction of the bill, commending the senators for working to “rein in big tech”.

“The gatekeeper power that corporate behemoths now exercise over the app economy is harming consumers and competition,” he said. “This legislation is a thoughtful way to eliminate those harms while promoting innovation.”

"The introduction of this bill is an important milestone in the continued fight for fairer digital platforms. Its passage would enable developers to seek injunctions for violations of the Act, which will help level the playing field for small companies standing up to monopolists who are abusing their market power," Corie Wright, VP of Public Policy at Epic Games, told IT Pro. "This will make it easier for developers of all sizes to challenge these harmful practices and seek relief from retaliation, be it during litigation or simply because they dared speak up."

Google declined to comment but a spokesperson pointed Reuters to previous company statements that Android devices often come preloaded with two or more app stores and that app sellers can allow downloads without using Google’s Play Store.

IT Pro has contacted Apple for comment, but hadn't received a response at the time of publication.

In August last year, Epic Games sued Google and Apple in the US over the removal of Fortnite from their app stores. The two tech giants took a cut of 30% of all payments made in games and apps downloaded through their stores. Epic decided to offer players a 20% discount if they purchased in-game currency directly from Fortnite instead of through the app, resulting in Apple and Google kicking the game off their platforms.

The company also filed a antitrust complaints against Apple in the EU and Australia in February this year, which it followed up with a complaint to the UK's competition watchdog in March, arguing Apple's app store rules are a violation of the UK Competition Act of 1998.

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