By Nathalie Voit
In a letter issued to Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Jan. 18, Apple’s senior director of government affairs Timothy Powderly said the antitrust bills being considered in the Senate could cause “real harm” to millions of Americans by undermining their user security and privacy in several vital ways.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act is intended to prohibit dominant platforms like Apple from preferencing its products over those of competitors. The Open App Markets Act addresses the same concern but focuses particularly on app stores.
Currently, third-party app developers who want to sell their products on the App Store must pay a fee of 15% or 30% on all digital purchases, depending on how profitable they are (small app makers and new developers are typically subject to the lower commission).
The new legislation would prevent firms with dominant app stores like Apple’s from punishing developers who refuse to participate in the platform’s in-app payment scheme. If passed, rival brands would be free to sell their products on the company’s marketplace without paying any fees.
However, Powderly said the new bills being considered would “put consumers in harm’s way because of the real risk of privacy and security breaches.”
“After a tumultuous year that witnessed multiple controversies regarding social media, whistleblower allegations of long-ignored risks to children, and ransomware attacks that hobbled critical infrastructure, it would be ironic if Congress responds by making it much harder to protect the privacy and security of Americans’ personal devices. Unfortunately, that is what these bills would do,” Powderly warned in the letter.
In its current form, the legislation would force Apple to allow users to sideload apps, a feature that Android users already have access to but that Apple said would greatly harm consumer welfare.
“If Apple is forced to enable sideloading, millions of Americans will likely suffer malware attacks on their phones that would otherwise have been stopped,” Powderly said.
“This increased risk is not primarily because consumers will knowingly choose to accept the risk and download questionable apps; it is because, without a centralized vetting mechanism like the App Store, many consumers will be deceived into in- stalling unwanted malicious software on their devices,” Powderly added.
In outlining the risk posed by sideloading and other “non-vetted,” decentralized software, Apple identified its own App Store as the best way to preserve consumer well-being. The tech giant said its combination of “advanced technology and human review” makes the App Store “dramatically more secure” than other solutions.
A spokesperson for Klobuchar disagreed with the notion that her bill would undercut security.
“The bill does not force Apple to allow unscreened apps onto Apple devices,” the spokesperson said in a statement, according to CNBC. “All of Apple’s arguments about ‘sideloading’ really amount to a desperate attempt to preserve their app store monopoly, which they use to charge huge fees from businesses they are competing against. Let’s be clear – this multi-trillion dollar company is more that capable of protecting privacy and security while still giving consumers greater choice by allowing competition. The legislation includes strong provisions that all platforms to safeguard user privacy and security.”