Antitrust or Anti-Consumer?
Last year, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Open App Markets Act. The act is an attempt to prevent Apple and Google, who operate App Store and Google Play, from engaging in alleged “anti-competitive practices.”
There are several concerns with the act, beginning with the fact that government is again attempting to regulate private companies—companies who essentially built the app marketplace themselves. Currently, 8.5 million apps exist, many are free, and most of them enhance our lives. Apps have made the world wealthier and more connected, essentially allowing every individual with a smartphone the ability to have a personal assistant who can pick up our groceries, teach us a language, track our heart rate, drive us to the airport, check our grammar, find out which song is playing on the restaurant radio, calculate mortgage costs, find the quickest route to our destination, track our mileage, and play the sounds of the ocean when we go to sleep—progress unthinkable at the turn of the century.
This marketplace, pioneered by Apple and Google, has made our lives easier in ways previous generations my generation could’ve never imagined a couple of decades ago.
Yet, according to these Senators, these two companies act as gatekeepers because they have standards, and means for making money, that developers must agree to. They are also free to reject apps they have concerns over.
But is this monopolistic? As Stephen Moore, Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, writes, “Does Walmart have to place every T-shirt and book on their store shelves? Does Safeway have to carry every variety of cereal? Food companies don’t have a right to sue a grocery store for declining to sell their brand of ice cream.”
But one of the most dangerous results of the act is that it would weaken security—for all of us. The act works in the same way that legislation aimed at these companies for speech regulation would work. It would cripple their ability to regulate these apps for safety, as they are open to legal action if they do not approve an app.
Again, according to Moore, “The new regulations proposed would…establish a legal catch-22 for the platforms. If they deny access to an app, they can be sued for monopolistic behavior. If they allow all applications on their platforms, they can be sued for reckless disregard for the welfare of their customers by allowing malicious or malfunctioning apps.”
Under the Open App Markets Act, these companies would have to allow apps from developers there is no demand for, and that may have security problems.
Apple and Google have a deep interest in protecting users’ data and devices from malware. They have the most rigorous policies and security measures in place. This is consumer protection. And the point of antitrust legislation is to protect consumers. If this act is passed, it will undermine its (stated) intention: protecting us.
There are few of us who would say the current status quo within the app marketplace is harming us as consumers. That could change if these platforms are required to carry apps that don’t meet their current standards.