Jun 23, 2021 - Technology

Apple puts antitrust bills in privacy spotlight

Illustration of a woman looking out a window with open curtains build into a computer screen
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Apple warned Wednesday that new antitrust legislation would place iPhone customers' privacy and security at risk by limiting the company's control over what apps users can install.

Driving the news: Apple CEO Tim Cook called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats to argue that the antitrust bills would hurt innovation and consumers, per a New York Times report.

The big picture: Tech companies are focusing on potential privacy pitfalls as they seek to sink antitrust proposals being taken up Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

What's new: In a paper released Wednesday, Apple argues that the App Store protects consumers from malicious or scammy apps.

  • Apple fears pending bills would force allowing third-party app stores and sideloading — letting users download apps on their phones without going through the App Store, something that is the norm on PCs and Macs but less common on phones.
  • Apple's paper, "Building a Trusted Ecosystem for Millions of Apps," uses a cartoon fox to warn that sideloading could make children's data vulnerable or allow a ransomware attack.

What they're saying: Tech companies are seizing on what they argue are the privacy implications of the bills, with Google warning earlier this week they "raise serious privacy and security concerns."

  • Facebook argued antitrust laws should not punish successful companies in a statement ahead of the hearing.
  • Congress ought to "tackle the areas of greatest concern to people, like content moderation, election integrity, and privacy — not attempt to dismantle the products and services people depend on," a Facebook spokesperson said. "These bills underestimate the unrelenting competition within the tech sector, including competition from foreign companies such as TikTok, WeChat, and Alibaba."
  • Amazon argued the bills would hurt sellers and customers and that the committee was moving too quickly.

The other side: Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director at advocacy group Public Knowledge, said the legislation includes restrictions on how data can be used, even as one bill would require companies to allow users to take their data to different platforms.

  • "We're still going to need comprehensive federal privacy legislation that really protects users' privacy, even if these bills become law," Slaiman told Axios.
  • A senior Democratic aide said there are bipartisan expectations for the bills to pass both the committee and the House.
  • The aide also disputed the charge that the process was rushed, citing the committee's ten hearings on antitrust in the course of its investigation.
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