The US House of Representatives Judiciary subcommittee that publicly grilled Tim Cook and other tech-giant CEOs (see “A Quick Rundown of Big Tech’s Showdown with Congress,” 31 July 2020) has released a report claiming that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google all wield monopoly power. The report recommends sanctions and new legislation. In the case of Apple, the subcommittee focused on the iOS App Store, which it says Apple uses to prevent competition and take advantage of developers (the report even used the term “Sherlocking,” which has come to mean Apple “borrowing” features from smaller developers).
One of the report’s recommended solutions is to split the App Store off from Apple as a whole, which makes little sense to us. There are plenty of problems with the App Store, but we can’t see how breaking it off would necessarily resolve those issues (see “Developers v. Apple: Outlining Complaints about the App Store,” 13 August 2020). More interesting are Microsoft’s proposed principles for app stores.
Although the report has a surprising amount of bipartisan support, and many people agree that the tech giants are too powerful, antitrust law hasn’t had to deal with such situations in the past and may not be well-suited to today’s problems. It’s hard to see where this report will lead, given that elections are looming in the US, along with the concern that meddling with the country’s most successful companies during a severe economic downturn would be foolhardy.