Open App Markets Act goes to Senate vote • The Register


The US Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to pass the Open App Markets Act, despite intense lobbying from Apple and Google.

The invoice, S.2710 [PDF]limits the kinds of restrictions major app platforms can impose on competitors, developers and customers, will now be considered by a full Senate vote.

If approved, with accompanying invoice HR 5017 [PDF] Introduced in the House of Representatives last year, and then signed by President Biden, the legislation will reboot an app economy that generates well over $100 billion a year.

During the committee hearing in Washington DC, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the sponsor of the bill, compared Apple and Google to the old American railroad monopolies.

“There has been an outpouring of enthusiasm and support for this bill because the American public recognizes that the mobile phone market is broken,” he said.

“Today, the simple fact is that Google and Apple own the rails. They own the rails of the app economy, just like the railroads at the turn of the last century.”

He described how a Microsoft executive once said the company wanted to use its dominance in the personal computing market to collect a “vig” – a payment – for every Internet transaction using Redmond’s technology.

Microsoft, he said, has never been able to do that, in part due to enforcement of US antitrust laws. But now, after decades of lax enforcement, “Apple and Google have now succeeded in doing what Microsoft could not do at the height of its monopoly powers,” he said. “They collect a fee on almost every transaction in our app economy.”

Citing House Judiciary Committee survey data, Blumenthal said Apple was making $15 billion in profit from its App Store at a cost of less than $100 million.

“Apple makes 150 times more profit than it takes to run the App Store,” he said. “This is what we call monopoly rent.”

A rare display of bipartisanship

“The passage of the Open App Markets Act by the Senate Judiciary Committee brings us one step closer to enacting this legislation,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), one of the co-sponsors of the law Project. by Twitter. “This bill will allow people to download apps directly from outside companies rather than having to go through official app stores.”

The bill will do more than that. It prevents major app platforms with at least 50 million users in the United States – namely Apple’s iOS App Store and Google Play – from requiring other companies and individual developers to use their respective integrated payment systems.

It requires support for installing third-party apps and app stores from a source other than the App Store platform (which could be interpreted as third-party stores rather than “sideloading”). » allowed individually), to cause third-party applications to act in place of default applications and to hide or remove pre-installed default applications.

Apple has been warning for months about the calamity of allowing sideloading — despite the fact that it supports sideloading on macOS — and both companies have sent last-minute letters to lawmakers hoping to avoid a future that now seems rather likely.

The Chamber of Progress, a tech trade group led by a former Google lobbyist and backed by Amazon, Facebook and Google, among others, also expressed concern about the bill’s progress.

“By mandating sideloading, this bill would ensure iPhone access to the worst apps — both security threats and hate speech services,” said Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich. , in a press release. “This poses a serious threat to content moderation – eliminating Apple’s ability to stop the spread of apps that promote misinformation and hate speech.”

The Coalition for App Fairness, a group representing app developers, applauded the legislative markup and called for full Senate and House approval of the bill. “This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will hold guardian platforms accountable, increase fair competition, and benefit consumers across the country with more choice and innovation,” executive director Meghan DiMuzio said in a statement.

Kosta Eleftheriou, an app developer who has criticized Apple’s practices, took issue with the Claim that Apple would not be able to remove fraudulent or malicious apps as required by the bill. Eleftheriou observed that Apple has access to security controls on its mobile devices that are separate from its platform policies.

“Apple can both perform malware filtering for apps and disable apps after distribution through a ‘kill switch,'” he said. The register.

“This is how notarized (non-App Store) apps work on macOS today, and exactly how they might work on iOS as well. The security and privacy protections people often talk about are all enforced on the device himself.”

“Another way to think about this is that Apple already does all of this malware screening for App Store apps as part of its app review process, and that part isn’t done by humans,” Eleftheriou explained.

“Humans can’t tell if there’s malware or a virus in an app, so Apple could just provide that non-human part as a malware scanning service, just the same way they provide it. have been offering on macOS for years now.”

Yes, about that Apple – Schneier is irritated

Cryptographer and security expert Bruce Schneier says Apple’s security concerns are dishonest. In a letter sent to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the Open App Markets Act and S. 2992, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (which limits platform self-preference).

“I would like to address some of the unfounded security concerns raised about these bills,” he wrote. “It is simply not true that this legislation endangers the privacy and security of users. In fact, it is more accurate to say that this legislation endangers the extractive business models of these companies. privacy and security risks are both false and misleading, and driven by self-interest, not the public interest.”

The bills do not prevent platforms from implementing security and privacy measures, Schneier said, a point also underscored in a Consumer Reports letter sent in support of S.2710 to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Schneier also points out that the language of the law does not require “sideloading” in the strictest definition of the term – the ability to install arbitrary apps without an intermediary. Rather, it requires platforms to provide a means “to install third-party apps or app stores through means other than its App Store.”

“This interoperability doesn’t require random apps to be one-click-installed from the internet, only that companies give up their monopoly control over app stores,” Schneier explained. “Alternative stores could have the same or even more security restrictions than Apple.”

He also addresses Apple’s claim that it defends user choice, saying the company’s argument is exactly backwards.

“Our devices are ours and interoperability will allow us to use them however we want,” Schneier wrote in his letter. “Any user who prefers to use only Apple-approved applications will have no trouble doing so. But S.2710 will finally give users the freedom to leave the walled garden: to create, share and install software that does not have not been approved by Apple’s moderation machine.” ®


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