Apple slams proposed antitrust legislation in scathing letter to committee

iPhone event
iPhone event (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple has written to the House Committee on the Judiciary to warn of the harm posed by emerging antitrust legislation.
  • Apple says the bills would create a "race to the bottom for security and privacy".
  • Apple says the move would not promote competition and would hamper innovation.

Apple's Senior Director for Government Affairs in the Americas, Timothy Powderly, has written an open letter to the House Committee on the Judiciary's Subcommittee on antitrust to blast proposed antitrust legislation changes it says will harm competition and innovation on iOS and the App Store.

In the letter Apple states "We are concerned that many provisions of the recent package of antitrust reform legislation would create a race to the bottom for security and privacy, while also undermining innovation and competition. We write today to provide a high-level overview of the harms these bills present."

Apple claims the legislation "would undermine consumers' ability to choose products that offer state-of-the-art privacy and security", and that mandating sideloading on iOS "would prevent Apple from continuing to offer consumers this more secure choice, reducing competition and decreasing consumer welfare."

Apple also says that "requiring Apple to provide developers all user data generated through the use of an app poses immense risks to privacy", and that Congress should consider measures to increase, rather than decrease digital security. The company also states legislation mandating interoperability would "severely burden platforms' incentives to innovate".

Apple has already published its paper on the dangers of allowing sideloading on iOS, which it says would totally undermine the security and privacy of the iPhone and iOS.

You can read the full text of the letter provided to iMore below:

June 22, 2021

The Honorable Jerrold Nadler, Chair The Honorable Jim Jordan, Ranking Member House Committee on the Judiciary

The Honorable David N. Cicilline, Chair The Honorable Ken Buck, Ranking Member House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law

Dear Chairmen Nadler and Cicilline, and Ranking Members Jordan and Buck:

Apple has appreciated the opportunity to engage with the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law on our shared objective of ensuring that U.S. laws and Apple's business practices promote competition, foster innovation, and provide benefits and critical protections to consumers.

The App Store creates competition, and it is a place where all developers—no matter their size—can turn their passion and creativity into a thriving business. The App Store offers customers access to nearly 2 million apps, and it supports more than 2.1 million jobs across all 50 states. We are concerned that many provisions of the recent package of antitrust reform legislation would create a race to the bottom for security and privacy, while also undermining innovation and competition. We write today to provide a high-level overview of the harms these bills present.

The Legislation Would Undermine Consumers' Ability To Choose Products That Offer State-of-the-Art Privacy And Security.

• Consumers are not one-size-fits-all, and Congress should not mandate smartphones to be one-size-fits all, either. Apple offers consumers a choice of a smartphone that offers the best possible security, privacy and performance. The iPhone is uniquely suited to those who don't want to balance risk every time they download an app. Some customers might want to do that, but Congress should not force that model on everyone. Legislation that would mandate that Apple allow sideloading would prevent Apple from continuing to offer consumers this more secure choice, reducing competition and decreasing consumer welfare. Enclosed with this letter is a more detailed document that outlines why proposals to require the sideloading of software on Apple devices is detrimental to consumer privacy and security.

• Requiring Apple to provide developers all user data generated through the use of an app poses immense risks to privacy. For instance, when apps track a user without her knowledge, her data could be spread far and wide without her consent. Apple's App Store rules help prevent that. Consumers have a right to control their data; it is not Apple's role to give away data to developers eager to monetize it.

• With cyberattacks on the rise, Congress should consider measures to increase, not decrease, digital security. Today, if an app surreptitiously collects user data, Apple is able to take steps to address that behavior—whereas current proposals would tie Apple's hands. Further, sideloaded apps can carry ransomware, or trick users into downloading fake versions of popular apps that can steal login credentials and spy on users. This legislation will make it easier for criminal actors to put iPhone users at risk.

• Parents have enough to worry about while protecting their children in the digital world, and Congress should not add to this burden by mandating that the iPhone be opened to less secure apps. Parents rely on Apple's secure ecosystem to guard against apps that would sell a child's data or expose a child to inappropriate content. In addition, proposals that target in-app purchasing would severely limit the effectiveness of child safety features such as "Ask to Buy" parental controls, purchase history, and Family Sharing. These features are critical for enabling parents to monitor sales to children.

The Legislation Would Not Promote Competition.

• Of the nearly 2 million apps on the App Store, Apple offers approximately 70, and the vast majority of them are free. We face strong competition from very successful developers in every category in which we offer our own apps, from music to maps to weather.

• Apple's structural incentive is to promote more and greater quality apps and facilitate competition. We attract customers to the iPhone by continually improving its core features, including the App Store's many offerings. We support all developers, including those that compete with some Apple services, because innovation on the App Store is great for customers and attracts them to the iPhone. The record of success on the App Store for third party apps speaks for itself. We have no incentive to discriminate against developers and broad mandates against disparate treatment of apps at all could skew the competitive landscape on the App Store.

• Apple provides developers access to technology to create quality apps because better App Store offerings means greater customer satisfaction. Apple therefore only limits developer access to application programming interfaces if there is an independent compelling justification, such as safety or device performance. A good example of this is access to sensitive health data or to accessibility tools that can read emails aloud. Developers also rely on the App Store's protections. Apple works hard to ensure app safety, so developers can focus on building apps while benefiting from the iPhone's reputation for security. Congress should not force Apple to give unfettered access to core technologies that could be abused to harm consumers and put them at risk.

The Legislation Would Hamper Innovation.

• Interoperability mandates that require companies to hand over their intellectual property to others severely burden platforms' incentives to innovate. This will allow third parties to free ride on Apple's investments and hard work, dampening the ability of platforms to create new products, services, and technology that benefit consumers. These mandates would make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to innovate in accessibility, health, and other sensitive areas.• Consumers choose Apple products in part because they like the seamless interoperability between the hardware and the software that are specifically designed to work together. Moreover, Apple's device-based business incentivizes it to create quality apps and set high app standards, increasing competition in downstream markets. Overly broad prohibitions on vertical integration would also harm consumers. Such integration has greatly benefited device innovation, and it differentiates Apple from its many rivals in the smartphone market. The iPhone would not be the same product without integration of services, like iTunes, the App Store, or iMessage.

Apple is concerned that current proposals would harm consumer privacy, device security, and innovation. We urge the Committee not to approve the proposed legislation in its current form, and we look forward to engaging with the Committee going forward. We ask that this letter, and the attached document, be made part of the public record.

Respectfully, Timothy Powderly Senior Director, Government Affairs, Americas

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9

  • Apple is already harming iOS by not fully supporting the web standards that were laid out by the web standards commitee, back in 2014. To this day Apple still doesn't fully support web apps (PWA) as they were inteded to run, which is one of the reasons why Apples Safari browser is still the least compliant HTML5 browser on the market. Web developers know exactly why Apple has hindered web apps, and its because Apple wants all developers to make native iOS apps instead. That way Apple gets to control all of those native iOS apps on Apples app store, and Apple has guaranteed they will be able to collect all fees, if any of those apps require any app monetization. With web apps (PWA), Apple will not be able to control any of those apps (web sites maintain their own web apps), and the worst part is Apple will not be able to collect a single penny from any web app. I guess that is why Apple has gone out of their way to hinder web apps on iOS platforms for many years, go figure. Before anyone tries to bring up privacy and security, then look at what web apps consist of, and where they are run. Web apps consist of HTML files (human readable text files), CSS (more human readable text files), JavaScript (and more human readable text files, and some image files. Web apps run in a browser, like Apples Safari browser, within a sandboxed environment. So if there is any Security or Privacy issues, then maybe Apples Safari browser isn't that secure or private after all.
  • Politicians generally have no understanding of anything other than getting elected. They have no business dictating to successful companies what products and services to offer. While we are at it, let's get some software developers to tell plumbers how they should go about their jobs. Let's get electricians to write rules for dentists.
  • Look at Bell Telephone company as an example. It was only Bell at the time, and they had the majority. The government decided to split them up, and made it so other business would be able to buy Bells services at a fair price, that was regulated. A 3rd party could startup, and then compete with Bell. A similar thing could happen with Apple. Like Apple's app store should not be controlled by Apple, especially since its well known that Apple makes up rules and policies all the time that mainly benefit Apple, and NOT Apples customers. A 3rd party should take over Apples app store, and the first thing they should do is get rid of Apples app store bundles, because Apple pays no fees for any of their own apps or services, yet if anyone else tried to bundle their apps and services on Apples app store, they would still have to pay Apple fees for each one of their apps and services. Apple knows this as well, and has made it impossible for even large companies to even try to compete on Apples platform using Apples bundles services. Talk about unfair. Also Apple should be stopped from forcing developers to use certain Apple technologies or services. Like using Apples monetization methods, WebKit, Metal Graphics API's, and there is a lot more. The government does need to step in for sure, period.