Senate panel advances bill targeting Apple and power of Google’s App Store

A bill to limit the market power of Apple and Google’s app stores was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday with the support of all panel members except Sen. John CornyJohn CornynMcConnell seeks to turn the heat down in Supreme Court fight GOP can’t escape Trump-fueled election controversies Lawmakers plead for Nobel Peace Prize to honor Opal Lee MORE (R-Texas).

Other Republicans on the committee, as well as two California Democrats, expressed concerns similar to Cornyn’s about potential cybersecurity issues, though they still voted to move the bill forward, known as a bill. ‘Open App Marks Act.

It is the second major antitrust bill the committee has advanced so far this year, following the affirmative vote on the American Choice and Online Innovation Act last month. Although the Open App Marks Act moved forward Thursday with even broader committee support, lingering concerns could pose hurdles for the bill if it goes to a full vote in the Senate.

Supporters of the bill, which is co-sponsored by a group of bipartisan senators, say it would provide guardrails to tech giants they say act as gatekeepers and stifle competition through restrictive rules on app stores.

“It’s important that our legislative agenda keeps up with the times, and technology has so far outpaced legislation that tougher measures are now needed to reign in big tech. I’m not here to break up companies, but I’m here to warn executives and boards. We’re not going to let you pressure them out of this,” the senator said. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnHillicon Valley – Presented by Cisco – Spotify faces criticism over Rogan controversy 8 in 10 app developers back measure to rein in Google, Apple: Carville poll says it would help raise funds for possible bid in the Senate of Gallego MORE (R-Tenn.) said.

The bill would prevent the owners of major app stores, such as Apple and Google, from requiring users of their devices to use only their app store, blocking developers’ ability to use app store systems. alternative payments and receive commissions of up to 30%. The developers criticized the practices and argued that they were anti-competitive.

And those restrictive fees and policies in turn raise prices and limit options for consumers, said Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“If you are a consumer, this measure means to you cheaper prices, more innovation, better products and more consumer protections by opening up the walled garden so that new entrants are willing and able to compete on values ​​such as privacy and child safety,” he said.

Several senators raised concerns that the bill would create cybersecurity vulnerabilities — a point tech giants and industry groups have also hammered home.

The version of the bill approved by the committee included amendments aimed at mitigating these risks.

Chamber of Progress, a group that names Apple and Google among its business partners, centered its criticism on a provision in the bill allowing “sideloading,” or the ability to download apps through third-party app stores or directly. from the web.

Apple does not allow apps to be downloaded to its devices from stores other than its official App Store.

“While the amendment recognizes the security issues posed by sideloading, the amended bill would still require phone and tablet makers to open devices to unverified and insecure apps,” Chamber of Progress said. in the press release.

Apple also raised concerns about sideloading and security in a letter sent to key committee members.

“We are deeply concerned that the legislation, unless amended, would make it easier for major social media platforms to avoid the pro-consumer practices of Apple’s App Store and allow them to continue their activities as usual. It does this by requiring Apple to allow sideloading of apps and app stores that do not need to comply with the App Store’s pro-consumer privacy protections,” Apple wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill. “Instead, these companies will predictably seek to avoid the scrutiny and consumer protection of the App Store and take advantage of the bill’s provisions to allow them to operate in an environment without checks and balances. “

A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among Democrats, the strongest pushback came from California Sens. Alex PadilleAlex PadillaDemocrats demand info on specialized Border Patrol teams These Senate seats are up for grabs in 2022 Senate panel proposes bill to stop tech giants from favoring their own products MORE and Diane FeinsteinDianne Emiel Feinstein Sen. Luján suffers a stroke and is expected to make a full recovery..

Feinstein questioned the scope of the bill. She said the definition seemed to “isolate” companies based in her home country rather than because of her political goals. She raised similar concerns during last month’s debate over the American Choice and Online Innovation Act.

Other amendments, including some proposed by Cornyn, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP senator: Supreme Court nominee shouldn’t be pushing ‘woke agenda’ McConnell seeks to turn down the heat on Supreme Court fight Senate Russia sanctions talks face to final difficulties MORE (R-Texas) and Sen. Thomas TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP cannot escape Trump-fueled election controversies (RN.C.), was not approved by members, but Blumenthal and Blackburn agreed to continue working with senators as the legislation progresses.

The only amendment the panel agreed to add to the bill during Thursday’s hearing was one proposed by Cruz that asks the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division to create a report that analyzes and assesses the impact of the bill. three years after its entry into force.

Cornyn also pushed back on the process used by Democrats to push the bill forward. He suggested the legislation is being rushed because there has not been a full committee legislative hearing on the bill.

Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Dick DurbinDick DurbinMost in new poll support Biden’s pledge to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court (D-Ill.) and Chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley – Presented by Cisco – Media Industry Divided Over Big Tech Bill Media Groups Divided Over Bill Targeting Google, Digital Advertising Market Power On Facebook Biden Relaunches Cancer Moonshot: “Let’s end cancer as we know it” MORE (D-Minn.) fiercely disputed Cornyn’s charge that the legislation is being rushed through or that Democrats are setting a new precedent.

“I find this just another argument from tech companies, another way of delaying. They successfully delayed for decades, that’s why we didn’t do anything. So all of a sudden we made up this made up thing,” she said, adding that when Republicans were in charge of the committee, more than 40 bills were considered without holding a full hearing first. or in sub-committees.

“On the contrary, we have had detailed information [hearings]. This hearing on the App Store lasted nearly three hours. We did our job and I’m proud of it,” she said.

The Coalition for App Fairness, which represents companies including Spotify, Match Group and Tile, applauded the committee’s vote pushing the legislation forward.

“The Open App Markets Act directly attacks the anti-competitive policies of app store providers that harm developers and consumers. The bill will create a more competitive app ecosystem, maximize choice for consumers, and provide needed protection for app makers who fear retaliation,” the coalition said in a statement.

The coalition, and the apps it represents, had pushed strongly for the legislation. Executives from Spotify, Match and Tile testified at a hearing on App Store market power last year and urged Congress to take action to regulate dominant companies.

Apple and Goole executives defended their app store policies at last year’s hearing, saying they help keep users safe and aren’t anti-competitive.

A complementary bill to that approved by the committee was introduced in the House in August.

Momentum has been building in Congress to revamp antitrust laws that some members say are outdated and disregard technology platforms.

A list of other bills that came out of the House Judiciary Committee last year, including a companion to the American Choice and Online Innovation Act, address other concerns raised by critics about outdatedness antitrust laws. Bills, however, stalled due to backlash from both sides of the aisle.

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