Feb 3, 2022 - Technology

App store bill sails out of Senate Judiciary Committee

Senators Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal at a desk on Capitol Hill
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) speaks alongside Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security hearing. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A bill that would upend how Apple and Google run their mobile app stores easily made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Driving the news: Senators on the committee voted to pass the Open App Markets Act 20-2, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) voting no.

  • If the bill passes the full Senate and is signed by President Biden, Google and Apple would essentially have to give up full control of their app stores.
  • New rules could require them both to allow app side-loading — installing apps from non-sanctioned marketplaces — and alternative payment processing systems. Apple and Google have argued vehemently against the bill.
  • Axios is told Sen. Tillis’ staff made a proxy vote for him in support of the bill, which was later reversed.

Why it matters: The 20-2 vote shows there's increasing support in Congress for the kinds of bills that aim to reel in Big Tech companies.

  • It will still be a long haul for this bill to become law, but it's notable that it made it out of committee so easily, garnering the support of many Republicans.
  • Another tech antitrust bill, the American Innovation and Competition Act, made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 16-6 vote last month.

What they're saying: A number of senators proposed amendments to the bill and suggested it needed more work.

  • Cornyn said he was worried about the bill allowing for cybersecurity risks and malware.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a co-author of the bill along with Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), dismissed tech company claims that the bill would cause privacy and security problems.
  • Blumenthal said tech companies "own the rails," comparing them to railroad monopolists from the past. "Gatekeeper dominance allows them to dictate the terms of the market."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the changed vote from Sen. Thom Tillis.

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