By Nathalie Voit
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the Open App Markets Act (OAMA) on Feb. 3, Congress’s second major Big Tech antitrust bill of the year.
The legislation passed 20-2 on a bipartisan basis, with only two dissenting members present in the committee: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC).
If passed, the bill would prevent dominant players in the mobile app marketplace from preferencing their own products over third-party apps. The bill is intended to stop tech companies from engaging in anti-competitive practices that discriminate against rival developers, like favoring their own in-house apps in searches, forcing competitors to use their payment systems, and excluding third-party app stores from their platforms. The bill would specifically target app stores with over 50 million U.S. users, like Google’s Play Store and the Apple App Store.
The legislation would address major grievances of the app development industry, including those of key developers like Spotify, Basecamp, and Epic Games. They have all raised concerns about Apple and Google’s high commission fees for distribution.
The bill would also prohibit dominant firms from punishing developers for offering their apps at different pricing terms in other app stores or marketplaces. It would require app stores to allow developers direct access to consumers for legitimate business reasons, according to the bill’s summary.
Dominant app store operators have publicly opposed OAMA, labeling it as a detriment to consumer privacy and warning it could worsen overall user experience.
“This bill could destroy many consumer benefits that current payment systems provide and distort competition by exempting gaming platforms, which amounts to Congress trying to artificially pick winners and losers in a highly competitive marketplace,” said Google VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy Mark Isakowitz in a statement, according to CNBC.
Apple expressed similar concerns, stating the bill would favor “side-loading” and other “non-vetted” practices that might trigger malware or ransomware attacks in users’ devices.
“If Apple is forced to enable side-loading, millions of Americans will likely suffer malware attacks on their phones that would otherwise have been stopped,” wrote Apple’s senior director of government affairs, Timothy Powderly, in a letter to Congress.
The passage of OAMA follows last month’s bipartisan vote to advance the American Innovation and Online Choice Act, another major tech competition bill aimed at preventing self-preferencing and other monopolistic practices across the industry but on a more sweeping basis.