Biden administration urges Congress to level playing field with Google, Apple


The Biden administration said Google and Apple serve as “gatekeepers” in the mobile app market and urged legislative action to even the playing field, a boost for lawmakers looking to revamp antitrust laws to target the nation’s largest tech companies. 

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said Google’s and Apple’s policies could harm consumers by inflating prices and reducing innovation, according to a report published Wednesday.

The agency said consumers broadly can’t get apps outside of the app store models controlled by Apple and Google. 

Apple does not allow users to download apps on its iOS devices outside of the Apple App Store. Google does allow for other mobile app stores on Android devices, but the report found that more than 90 percent of app downloads on Android devices are through the Google Play Store. 

The report also highlights hurdles the agency said Apple and Google put in place for app developers that restrict how apps can function or require developers to go through slow and opaque review processes. 

A key point of defense the tech companies have raised before is that the policies in place are important to maintain privacy and security for consumers. However, the NTIA report said that privacy and security protections can still be achieved in a more competitive environment. 

An Apple spokesperson said in a statement, “We respectfully disagree with a number of conclusions reached in the report.”

The spokesperson said the agency’s conclusions “ignore the investments we make in innovation, privacy and security — all of which contribute to why users love iPhone and create a level playing field for small developers to compete on a safe and trusted platform.”

A Google spokesperson said in a statement, “We disagree with how this report characterizes Android which enables more choice and competition than any other mobile operating system.”

“NTIA recognizes the importance of interoperability, multiple app stores and sideloading, which Android’s open system already supports — all while ensuring privacy and security,” the spokesperson added. 

The agency recommended changes including lifting restrictions on ways for users to download and install apps from alternative websites or app stores, as well as ban requirements that developers use the app store operator’s in-app payment system. 

The requirement to use a company’s in-app payment systems, coupled with the fees the company collect from those payments, has been a key concern from app developers pushing bills to revamp antitrust laws to target the dominant app store owners. 

The agency’s recommendations broadly include proposals that were part of a bipartisan bill that failed to make it across the finish line last year, the Open App Markets Act. The bill passed the House and Senate judiciary committees with bipartisan support, but was not passed by the end of the year. They face a slimmer chance this session with House Republicans in charge, and GOP leaders outlining a tech agenda focused on content moderation over competition. 

The NTIA report is the latest sign of support from the administration to boost competition.

Last month, President Biden penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal saying “we need to bring more competition back to the tech sector.”

Updated at 10:35 a.m.

Tags antitrust Apple Biden Google Joe Biden NTIA

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