Apple has been on the brink of an antitrust investigation in the US over the last year as the federal government and states have been looking into major tech giants’ business practices and hearing from competitors. However, so far this has been an overall look into Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Now an official antitrust probe from the DOJ and multiple states appears imminent to investigate Apple’s “ironclad control of the App Store.”
Reported by Politico, three anonymous sources close to the matter have shared that the DOJ along with attorneys general from multiple states are “taking the first steps toward launching an antitrust probe of Apple.”
The sources say that the Apple antitrust probe discussions in the US happened as recently as last week and notably come after two new antitrust cases into Apple started in Europe at the same time over the App Store and Apple Pay.
The individuals said DOJ and the AGs have spoken to several companies unhappy with Apple’s ironclad control of its App Store, the source of frequent griping by developers who say the company’s rules are applied inconsistently — particularly for apps that compete with Apple’s own products — and lead to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.
Another chapter in the antitrust allegations against Apple unfolded last week just ahead of WWDC with the Hey email app being initially rejected by the App Store and then the App Store Review Board/Phil Schiller. What followed added more evidence to a potential antitrust suit with Hey email/Basecamp CEO saying “And Phil Schiller’s suggestion that we should raise prices on iOS customers to make up for Apple’s added margin is antitrust gold.” Hey CEO, Jason Fried also highlighted that Congressman Cicilline — the House antitrust committee chair — recently said in an interview that Apple’s 30% cut of App Store sales is “highway robbery.”
In the end, Apple and Hey worked it out, with Hey adding a limited-time free option in the app. But the scuffle and everything that was brought up along with it will no doubt be something regulators will look at in a potential antitrust probe.
In the meantime, as noted by my colleague Ben Lovejoy, announced at WWDC this week, Apple is quietly taking steps to reduce its antitrust liability like opening up its platforms, introducing some changes to its App Store policies, and giving more choice to users. It’s also expected to take measures to end another one of its antitrust battles in South Korea.
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