Apple, Google Take Flak Over App Platforms

A witness at a Senate hearing compared the companies' control over their platforms to the "behavior of the robber barons."
Matthew HellerApril 22, 2021

Apple and Google came under attack at a U.S. Senate antitrust hearing, with one witness describing Apple’s app platform as an “iron-fisted monopoly.”

Representatives of the tech giants told U.S. senators on Wednesday that the companies’ tight control over their app stores and the associated commissions they charge are needed to enforce and pay for security measures to protect consumers from harmful apps and practices.

“There’s an incredible amount of investment that we make into the app store” that is recouped through the commissions, said Kyle Andeer, Apple’s chief compliance officer.

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But Jared Sine, chief legal officer of dating app provider Match Group, disputed that Apple’s oversight of the App Store enhances consumer safety, saying Apple has revoked Match’s apps when they tried to verify a user’s age by requesting their ID.

“Senators, this is not curation as we’ve been told. It is iron-fisted monopoly control,” he told the antitrust committee.

“When an industry player has the power to dictate how apps operate, how much they will be forced to pay and, in many cases, if they will even survive, it is a monopoly,” Sine added. “This is the same behavior of the robber barons before them.”

Both Google and Apple take a 30% cut of any digital transaction, with Match paying nearly $500 million in fees to the app stores annually, the company’s single largest expense, Sine said.

According to The Wall Street Journal,  the hearing “marked an escalation of lawmakers’ antitrust scrutiny on smartphone makers” and “could provide further momentum for legislation to help rein in the companies that dominate the increasingly important mobile app environment.”

The chair of the antitrust committee, Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar, has introduced a bill that would make it harder for dominant tech companies to make acquisitions.

“The only way apps can get to consumers is through one of these two platforms, which are owned by just two companies,” she said Wednesday. “The best thing to do here would be to admit that we have a huge monopoly problem across the board, and put in some stiffer rules and standards to address it.”