Apple's refusal to allow iMessage on Android has it under Department of Justice investigation as the FTC watches

iPhone 14 with messages app open being held in front of green wall
(Image credit: John-Anthony Disotto)

Apple's cat-and-mouse battle to prevent apps like Beeper Mini from bringing iMessage to Android has captured the attention of the tech industry of late, and it isn't a new conversation. Apps have been trying to find a way to bring the Apple-owned instant messaging platform to non-Apple devices for years, with varying degrees of success and privacy. Beeper Mini seemed to be one of the most successful, but it too found itself blocked recently. And that's caught the attention of people that Apple would probably rather not get involved with.

Apple's reasoning for not wanting to allow apps like Beeper Mini to piggyback off its servers and hook into a service it controls is that it opens the door to spam and other privacy or security-related issues. It's a problem that has long been something SMS and other instant messaging platforms have struggled with, and iMessage is no different. But Apple doesn't want to make the spammers' lives easy, and preventing third parties from directly connecting to its servers without its approval is part of that. But that isn't how everyone sees it.

Beeper, the parent company behind Beeper Mini, predictably says that Apple's real motivation here is to stifle competition and that the whole thing is anti-competitive. Others would tend to agree, and that's a problem that Apple has largely ignored to this point. The issue it's about to face is that it's difficult to ignore the problem when it involves two acronyms; DOJ, and FTC.

Pending investigation

Ignoring the Department of Justice isn't really an option for Apple, and a report in The New York Times claims that the DOJ is already looking into the Beeper Mini situation and whether Apple is doing something it shouldn't be — blocking access to iMessage for reasons other than privacy and security.

"The Justice Department has taken interest in the case," the report explains. "Beeper Mini met with the department’s antitrust lawyers on Dec. 12, two people familiar with the meeting said. Eric Migicovsky, a co-founder of the app’s parent company, Beeper, declined to comment on the meeting, but the department is in the middle of a four-year-old investigation into Apple’s anticompetitive behavior."

This follows calls from officials for an investigation into “whether this potentially anticompetitive conduct by Apple violated the antitrust laws.”

The DOJ isn't the only shark circling, either. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also seems to have one eye on Apple's messaging platform, although it hasn't explicitly said so.

In a blog post shared this week, the FTC made it clear that companies pointing to privacy and security in the name of blocking access to services isn't going to fly. It doesn't take too much of a guess to assume Apple is the company being targeted.

"In the face of concerns about anticompetitive conduct, companies may claim privacy and security reasons as justifications for refusing to have their products and services interoperate with other companies’ products and services," the FTC says. "As an agency that enforces both competition and consumer protection laws, the Commission is uniquely situated to evaluate claims of privacy and data security that implicate competition."

The game is afoot

There now seems little to suggest that Apple won't now come under increasing scrutiny surrounding iMessage and its claims of privacy and security.

But this all ignores the question of whether Apple should be forced to allow a third party access to its own servers and services to take those services to a competing platform. That's a question that will be on many lips right now.

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Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

  • mech1164
    And this is exactly what i've been saying since this started. Everyone is crowing "It's Apple's right to protect themselves" ect ect. That's not how Goverment or politicians are seeing this. This is being cast rightly or wrongly as Goliath squashing David. When put that way, Apple is in a pickle of their own making. I can easily see this coming where for the same interoperability Apple will have to chosoe. Open iMessage to all or provide an iMessage app to Android. Either way this is going to happen. Apple's mask slipped here and people are saying wait a minute. Funny part was RCS capitulation came cause this is what the EU was threatening Apple with. Now this move here may make Apple do what the EU wanted in the first place.
    Reply
  • Just_Me_D
    I understand the situation as well as the perception, however, I shouldn’t be forced to make my successful messaging platform available to my competitors, especially when the devices I produce can already communicate with my competitors.

    Does Google not provide things that are only available on Android?
    Reply
  • mech1164
    Just_Me_D said:
    I understand the situation as well as the perception, however, I shouldn’t be forced to make my successful messaging platform available to my competitors, especially when the devices I produce can already communicate with my competitors.

    Does Google not provide things that are only available on Android?
    While I understand that, it would have been a stronger argument if iMessage was a stand alone app just for iPhone. Apple screwed this up when they incorporated it in the messaging app. Granted at the time they were one of the first to do what the likes of what'sapp and Telegram did after. At that moment this was an incentive to use an iPhone and still keep up with others that used the SMS standard that was the only other option. SMS and MMS are ubiquedous and universal accross all handsets. Then you had the competion (WA, Telegram ect.) go cross platform so you didn't need SMS. Meanwhile you had Apple still forcing it's users to communicate with others not on ios using a now antiquated and outdated protocol. This is where the FTC and DOJ may be able to push Apple. Not saying it's right or wrong just that this is where the situation is.
    Reply
  • bergman
    It's time for the world's regulators to recognize that not everything is a conspiracy or restraint of trade. There are businesses that create and support superior products. These companies have the right to set their standards; financial and security. Android envy of iMessage is not a reason to force Apple to give, sell or license their intellectually property. i do not trust the security and system integrity of Android phones. Too many are running outdated operating systems. If Android users want all the features and security, they can buy iPhones. I want Apple to maintain the operational integrity of the systems that support my Apple devices.
    This isn't like name brand vs generic drugs. No one is dying. If your budget or priorities don't allow you to purchase an iPhone (you're not very resourceful) and you may buy one of the many lower priced cell phones. There are ample affordable (some federally subsidized) to ensure anyone can have a phone.
    ite time for the DOJ, FCC and EU to stop interfering with free trade.
    Reply
  • HelloNNNewman
    This is akin to something like the government looking into why Verizon phones won't work directly on the T-Mobile network and vice-versa. Can you message between platforms? YES. There - the issue is resolved. Does the messaging have all the bells and whistles between platforms? NO.... live with it or switch phones. LOL

    Yes, some standards are pretty outdated, but having the FCC involved in any way, shape, or form, is just a boondoggle. They still can't get Net Neutrality right. Fix the lock ISP's have on Internet services, throttling and blocking, favored site service, hidden fees, excess fees, etc... instead of worrying about apps working on phone platforms. /2 cents
    Reply
  • SvenJ
    Just_Me_D said:
    I understand the situation as well as the perception, however, I shouldn’t be forced to make my successful messaging platform available to my competitors, especially when the devices I produce can already communicate with my competitors.

    Does Google not provide things that are only available on Android?
    Yes they do. I don't see Google Messaging, the one that uses Google's version of RCS, available in the app store. Maybe Apple doesn't allow it, but I can get WhatsApp, Facebook Messaging, Signal, so don't think that is the case.
    Reply
  • SvenJ
    mech1164 said:
    While I understand that, it would have been a stronger argument if iMessage was a stand alone app just for iPhone. Apple screwed this up when they incorporated it in the messaging app. ........
    I don't look at it like that. Apple made a stellar messaging app and incorporated the ability to use the industry standard SMS to support those that didn't have iPhones. That is no different than what Google did in the past, and presently. Google Messages uses a highly customized version of RCS (not the GSM standard version) and reverts to SMS when required.
    Reply
  • Just_Me_D
    mech1164 said:
    While I understand that, it would have been a stronger argument if iMessage was a stand alone app just for iPhone. Apple screwed this up when they incorporated it in the messaging app. Granted at the time they were one of the first to do what the likes of what'sapp and Telegram did after. At that moment this was an incentive to use an iPhone and still keep up with others that used the SMS standard that was the only other option. SMS and MMS are ubiquedous and universal accross all handsets. Then you had the competion (WA, Telegram ect.) go cross platform so you didn't need SMS. Meanwhile you had Apple still forcing it's users to communicate with others not on ios using a now antiquated and outdated protocol. This is where the FTC and DOJ may be able to push Apple. Not saying it's right or wrong just that this is where the situation is.

    I disagree with your statement, “…Apple still forcing its users to communicate with others not on iOS using a now antiquated and outdated protocol.”

    You mentioned cross-platform apps that are readily available to be installed on either an iPhone or an Android smartphone that would allow people to text as well as send and receive images and videos. WhatsApp is arguably the most notable outside the United States.

    My 18 year old son has WhatsApp, Snapchat, and a few others installed and so does his friends. So again, why is Apple being forced to make iMessage available on Android devices when it is not preventing Android and iPhone users from communicating with each other?
    Reply
  • naddy69
    "And this is exactly what i've been saying since this started. Everyone is crowing "It's Apple's right to protect themselves" ect ect. That's not how Government or politicians are seeing this. "

    But that's only because politicians don't know anything about tech. Or most other businesses. If they did they would be running a business, instead of doing nothing as politicians.

    "This is being cast rightly or wrongly as Goliath squashing David."

    Huh? How is Apple "Goliath" here? There are WAY more Android phones in use than iPhones. This is Goliath (Android) just being green with envy about David (Apple). All because of green text bubbles. So either get an iPhone or just Grow Up and Get Over it.

    Android is not perceived as being "cool". That's not Apple's fault. Nor is Apple breaking any laws here. Apple is NOT a "monopoly". You can't be a monopoly with 25% of the market.

    If Apple had 90% of the market, then these clueless politicians would have a point. Until then, just go away until the next election rolls around.
    Reply
  • Just_Me_D
    naddy69 said:
    ….

    "This is being cast rightly or wrongly as Goliath squashing David."

    Huh? How is Apple "Goliath" here? There are WAY more Android phones in use than iPhones. This is Goliath (Android) just being green with envy about David (Apple). All because of green text bubbles. So either get an iPhone or just Grow Up and Get Over it.

    Android is not perceived as being "cool". That's not Apple's fault. Nor is Apple breaking any laws here. Apple is NOT a "monopoly". You can't be a monopoly with 25% of the market.

    ….
    I am in agreement with you. In addition, I think Apple’s “trillion” dollar value is the reason it’s being viewed as Goliath. Politicians will take advantage of a situation in order to get some of that money.
    Reply