Updated Mar 24, 2024 - Technology

Antitrust suit could force Apple to reveal its secrets

Illustration of the Apple logo as an open combination lock

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Win or lose, the Justice Department's antitrust suit against Apple could force the company to do something it hates: It will have to share detailed info about its inner workings.

Why it matters: The famously tight-lipped company likes to carefully craft every narrative, releasing only information that makes its products and business practices look good.

  • But business lawsuits involve "discovery" — in which the other side gets to rifle through a company's email, reports and numbers.
  • Some of that information is kept confidential, but some of it is made public at trial.

Flashback: Apple has faced this challenge before in deciding how to handle legal matters. After choosing to sue Samsung a decade ago, Apple was forced to share details of unlaunched prototypes, market research and its secretive design process.

Be smart: The antitrust case is likely to force Apple to reveal even more of its business dealings, though it may be able to keep its most confidential arrangements under seal.

The other side: An Apple official told Axios that new secrets won't necessarily be exposed.

  • "We have litigated dozens of high-profile cases over the last 15 years," the official said. "DOJ has already had access to millions of documents during the course of the investigation. Yet they only used the same tired documents that have been part of the public record."

The big picture: Apple is particularly averse to having its business arrangements made public, but many tech companies have faced similar dilemmas in choosing whether to fight or settle antitrust complaints or other legal challenges.

  • Such suits inevitably become uncomfortable for all parties, as happened in the recent battle between Apple and Fortnite maker Epic Games.
  • In that case, court documents revealed secrets not only from Apple and Epic, but also from Microsoft, Sony and others.

Between the lines: Having to share secrets isn't the only extra risk a company takes if it ends up in court rather than settling a suit (or avoiding it in the first place). Distraction is another.

  • Mounting a defense takes time and energy away from other priorities and can leave a company less willing to take risks — two challenges that Microsoft faced during its long antitrust battles in Washington and Brussels.
  • Intel, by contrast, took a conciliatory tone with regulators during its years of dominating the processor market, and it was largely spared the messiness of drawn-out court battles.
Go deeper