FTC Republican: Let Apple design its own products

Federal Trade Commission Republican Joshua Wright is pushing back on the agency’s recent regulatory work on app platforms.

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The FTC should carefully weigh whether the consumer harms of a company’s design outweigh the benefits before intervening, as it did earlier this year with Apple, Wright said Thursday at a TechFreedom event.

“Apple’s choices with respect to how it designs its product — including when, where, and how Apple would communicate with consumers about billing on the platform for in-app purchases made during the fifteen-minute window — improve some consumers’ experiences and thus enhance the value of Apple’s platform and products,” he wrote in prepared remarks.

In January, the FTC reached a $32 million settlement with Apple over charges that it acted unfairly by not getting sufficient consent when letting users make in-app purchases.

Specifically, the agency said Apple did not inform parents that if they entered their password while their children were using certain apps, their children had a 15-minute window to spend unlimited amounts of money on virtual goods.

The FTC recently announced that it was taking Amazon to court over similar complaints about unauthorized in-app purchases in the Kindle app platform. Wright also objected to the Amazon charges.

While the majority of the commission has said these unauthorized in-app purchase cases are examples of the agency applying standing consumer protection principles to new technologies, Wright argued Thursday that the FTC should let Apple design its products how it sees fit.

“How and when information is disclosed and passwords are required affects the value of consumers’ experiences on Apple’s platform,” he said.

“Requiring changes ... may well make some consumers better off by decreasing the likelihood of consumer harm from unauthorized purchases; however, the same tinkering will also reduce the value of the platform for some other users.”

Wright also noted that the charges related to parents whose children made unauthorized in-app purchases, meaning they affected “a minuscule percentage of total Apple consumers.”

“Given the apparent benefits to many consumers and to competition from Apple’s allegedly unfair practices, I strongly believe that the Commission should have conducted a much more robust analysis to determine whether the injury to this small group of consumers justified the finding of unfairness and the imposition of a remedy,” he said.