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Despite a recent court ruling that could carve off a big slice of Apple and Google’s revenue for rival tech companies and app developers, Colorado Congressman Ken Buck continues to sharpen his anti-trust policy knife against the Big Tech giants.
“For far too long, companies like Google and Apple have had a stranglehold on app developers who are forced to take whatever terms these monopolists set in order to reach their customers,” Buck said last month in a press release announcing legislation aimed at opening up access and payment options on the app stores on mobile devices.
Buck’s bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Democrat Hank Johnson of Georgia, is the House companion to a bill introduced in the Senate by Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Amy Klobuchar and Republican Marsha Blackburn.
Buck has been a somewhat surprising champion for breaking up Big Tech, forming the Freedom from Big Tech Caucus in July, echoing the frequent if unproven refrain from the right that tech companies stifle conservative voices, but also charging hard at anti-competitive policies.
Apple and Google strictly control what apps are sold on mobile devices and how developers get paid, charging up to a 30% “app tax” and blocking developers from linking to other payment options.
But a U.S. District Court judge in California recently ruled, in a legal battle between Apple and Fortnite-maker Epic Games, that Apple must start allowing app developers to include links to other payment methods. This came even after Apple offered to loosen up its restrictions.
Apple, according to the Associated Press, tried to portray the court ruling, which compelled Epic Games to pay back fees, as a win, even though it’s likely to appeal the overall decision.
“We are very pleased with the court’s ruling and we consider this a huge win for Apple,” Kate Adams, the company’s general counsel, told AP. “This decision validates that Apple’s ‘success is not illegal,’ as the judge said.”
And a spokesman for Buck’s office said the court ruling in no way impacts the northeastern Colorado congressman’s proposed legislation.
“The case is still winding its way through the court system and we anticipate the recent ruling regarding Apple and Epic Games to be appealed; however, we feel it is a step in the right direction,” Buck communications director Nick Givas said in an email.
“The ruling doesn’t change the [Open App Markets Act], nor does it change the need to pass Congressman Buck’s legislation, which prohibits a number of anticompetitive practices by Big Tech companies like Apple,” Givas added.
A Republican former Weld County district attorney, Colorado Republican Party chairman and a member of both the original Tea Party and the subsequent Freedom Caucus, Buck might seem like a free-market champion and unlikely anti-trust warrior, but as the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, Buck has now formed the Freedom from Big Tech Caucus. Buck, according to Politico, has received campaign funds from some tech companies and app developers in this fight.
Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) Executive Director Meghan DiMuzio says Bucks bill, which her organization helped draft, is absolutely still necessary despite signs Apple may be willing to loosen its grip on its App Store.
“The Coalition for App Fairness is not appeased by empty gestures and sham settlements,” DiMuzio wrote in an email statement. “Apple’s latest settlement does nothing to address the underlying root issues that the Open App Markets Act proposes to correct. Dominant platforms still use monopolistic practices to stifle innovation and halt competition. We remain committed to ensuring developers and consumers have access to fair and open digital platforms.”
CAF didn’t back down after the recent court ruling either, tweeting, “This trial has helped fuel a global push from regulators and legislators to bring an end to Apple’s App Store monopoly and abuse of market power. The number of developers and consumers demanding change is growing and the fight to #OpenTheAppStore continues.”
CAF’s DiMuzio, in a phone interview, said her organization is reaching out to other Colorado lawmakers, including Big Tech antagonist Joe Neguse, to try to garner additional support for the bill. Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat who also serves on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, is aware of the legislation but has not signed on as a co-sponsor despite calls from constituents to get onboard. A spokeswoman for Neguse declined to comment on the legislation.
“Through those in-app payment systems, [Apple and Google] charge exorbitant fees and block communications between developers and their own customers,” DiMuzio said. “So folks like Spotify, Match, others cannot communicate directly with their customers and cannot actually triage those issues if any issues do come up, or provide the level of customer service more broadly that they would want to provide.”
The legislation would allow consumers to install the apps they want on their phones via whatever app store they choose, bypassing Apple and Google’s fees and pre-installed apps, DiMuzio added.
Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared on Colorado Times Recorder.