Jan 18, 2022 - Technology

Apple, Google urge caution on fast-moving antitrust bills

Illustration of the App store logo on a scale
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Apple is appealing to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee urging caution on two bills the company said would hurt its ability to offer customers privacy and security, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: Apple's aggressive warning to committee leaders is indicative of a real fear among Big Tech companies that the Senate will pass tech competition bills that would have significant negative consequences for their businesses.

  • Google also weighed in Tuesday, with president of global affairs and chief legal officer Kent Walker writing in a blog post that the bills are harmful to security and would make the company's products would less useful and less able to provide relevant information.

Driving the news: The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up the American Innovation and Choice Online Act this Thursday and the Open App Markets Act within weeks.

  • Lawmakers are scrambling to pass competition-related bills ahead of the 2022 midterms while Democrats remain in power, as Axios previously reported.
  • The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would prohibit Big Tech companies from favoring their own services in an anti-competitive way, is backed by the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as antitrust subcommittee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
  • The Open App Markets Act would aim to boost competition in app stores.

What they're saying: The two bills would make it "much harder to protect the privacy and security of Americans' personal devices," Apple government affairs chief Tim Powderly wrote in the letter to Senate Judiciary leaders.

  • "These bills will reward those who have been irresponsible with users' data and empower bad actors who would target consumers with malware, ransomware, and scams," Powderly wrote, arguing that the bills would allow for side-loading and could fill user devices with malware.
  • Powderly writes that it would be "ironic" for Congress to respond to a year of social media misinformation controversies and reported risks to children to make it more difficult for Apple to protect users via its App Store.
  • Apple is especially concerned about its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) program, which lets users decide whether to allow apps they download track them across other apps and websites.
  • The company argues that the bills would threaten the program and allow others to sue Apple for it, alleging the program hurts competition. Similarly, Google's Walker writes that Google could be prevented from using features like spam filters and its SafeBrowsing service should the bills pass.

Yes, but: Even if the bills change to ensure the ATT program can stay, Apple writes that may not be enough: "The bills would still allow apps to circumvent most protections altogether," and will allow for side-loading, Powderly wrote.

  • Google's Walker also wrote that the bills would embolden foreign companies and hurt U.S. tech leadership.

The bottom line: Apple argues in the letter that customers love and depend on iPhones for their privacy and security protections, and the bills should be modified to shore up consumer welfare and protection.

  • "The bills' threat to consumer privacy and security — along with their failure to address the harms to our social fabric highlighted by multiple congressional hearings over the last year — are major shortcomings that must be corrected to avoid doing real harm," Powderly wrote.
  • "While these bills might help the companies campaigning for them, including some of our major competitors, that would come at a cost to consumers and small businesses," Walker wrote.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information about Google's post.

Go deeper