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Paul Merrell

Is Apple an Illegal Monopoly? | OneZero - 0 views

  • That’s not a bug. It’s a function of Apple policy. With some exceptions, the company doesn’t let users pay app makers directly for their apps or digital services. They can only pay Apple, which takes a 30% cut of all revenue and then passes 70% to the developer. (For subscription services, which account for the majority of App Store revenues, that 30% cut drops to 15% after the first year.) To tighten its grip, Apple prohibits the affected apps from even telling users how they can pay their creators directly.In 2018, unwilling to continue paying the “Apple tax,” Netflix followed Spotify and Amazon’s Kindle books app in pulling in-app purchases from its iOS app. Users must now sign up elsewhere, such as on the company’s website, in order for the app to become usable. Of course, these brands are big enough to expect that many users will seek them out anyway.
  • Smaller app developers, meanwhile, have little choice but to play by Apple’s rules. That’s true even when they’re competing with Apple’s own apps, which pay no such fees and often enjoy deeper access to users’ devices and information.Now, a handful of developers are speaking out about it — and government regulators are beginning to listen. David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founder of the project management software company Basecamp, told members of the U.S. House antitrust subcommittee in January that navigating the App Store’s fees, rules, and review processes can feel like a “Kafka-esque nightmare.”One of the world’s most beloved companies, Apple has long enjoyed a reputation for user-friendly products, and it has cultivated an image as a high-minded protector of users’ privacy. The App Store, launched in 2008, stands as one of its most underrated inventions; it has powered the success of the iPhone—perhaps the most profitable product in human history. The concept was that Apple and developers could share in one another’s success with the iPhone user as the ultimate beneficiary.
  • But critics say that gauzy success tale belies the reality of a company that now wields its enormous market power to bully, extort, and sometimes even destroy rivals and business partners alike. The iOS App Store, in their telling, is a case study in anti-competitive corporate behavior. And they’re fighting to change that — by breaking its choke hold on the Apple ecosystem.
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  • Whether Apple customers have a real choice in mobile platforms, once they’ve bought into the company’s ecosystem, is another question. In theory, they could trade in their pricey hardware for devices that run Android, which offers equivalents of many iOS features and apps. In reality, Apple has built its empire on customer lock-in: making its own gadgets and services work seamlessly with one another, but not with those of rival companies. Tasks as simple as texting your friends can become a migraine-inducing mess when you switch from iOS to Android. The more Apple products you buy, the more onerous it becomes to abandon ship.
  • The case against Apple goes beyond iOS. At a time when Apple is trying to reinvent itself as a services company to offset plateauing hardware sales — pushing subscriptions to Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple News+, and Apple Arcade, as well as its own credit card — the antitrust concerns are growing more urgent. Once a theoretical debate, the question of whether its App Store constitutes an illegal monopoly is now being actively litigated on multiple fronts.
  • The company faces an antitrust lawsuit from consumers; a separate antitrust lawsuit from developers; a formal antitrust complaint from Spotify in the European Union; investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice; and an inquiry by the antitrust subcommittee of the U.S House of Representatives. At stake are not only Apple’s profits, but the future of mobile software.Apple insists that it isn’t a monopoly, and that it strives to make the app store a fair and level playing field even as its own apps compete on that field. But in the face of unprecedented scrutiny, there are signs that the famously stubborn company may be feeling the pressure to prove it.
  • Tile is hardly alone in its grievances. Apple’s penchant for copying key features of third-party apps and integrating them into its operating system is so well-known among developers that it has a name: “Sherlocking.” It’s a reference to the time—in the early 2000s—when Apple kneecapped a popular third-party web-search interface for Mac OS X, called Watson. Apple built virtually all of Watson’s functionality into its own feature, called Sherlock.In a 2006 blog post, Watson’s developer, Karelia Software, recalled how Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs responded when they complained about the company’s 2002 power play. “Here’s how I see it,” Jobs said, according to Karelia founder Dan Wood’s loose paraphrase. “You know those handcars, the little machines that people stand on and pump to move along on the train tracks? That’s Karelia. Apple is the steam train that owns the tracks.”From an antitrust standpoint, the metaphor is almost too perfect. It was the monopoly power of railroads in the late 19th century — and their ability to make or break the businesses that used their tracks — that spurred the first U.S. antitrust regulations.There’s another Jobs quote that’s relevant here. Referencing Picasso’s famous saying, “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” Jobs said of Apple in 2006. “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Company executives later tried to finesse the quote’s semantics, but there’s no denying that much of iOS today is built on ideas that were not originally Apple’s.
Paul Merrell

Time to 'Break Facebook Up,' Sanders Says After Leaked Docs Show Social Media Giant 'Tr... - 0 views

  • After NBC News on Wednesday published a trove of leaked documents that show how Facebook "treated user data as a bargaining chip with external app developers," White House hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders declared that it is time "to break Facebook up."
  • When British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell first shared the trove of documents with a handful of media outlets including NBC News in April, journalists Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar reported that "Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg oversaw plans to consolidate the social network's power and control competitors by treating its users' data as a bargaining chip, while publicly proclaiming to be protecting that data." With the publication Wednesday of nearly 7,000 pages of records—which include internal Facebook emails, web chats, notes, presentations, and spreadsheets—journalists and the public can now have a closer look at exactly how the company was using the vast amount of data it collects when it came to bargaining with third parties.
  • According to Solon and Farivar of NBC: Taken together, they show how Zuckerberg, along with his board and management team, found ways to tap Facebook users' data—including information about friends, relationships, and photos—as leverage over the companies it partnered with. In some cases, Facebook would reward partners by giving them preferential access to certain types of user data while denying the same access to rival companies. For example, Facebook gave Amazon special access to user data because it was spending money on Facebook advertising. In another case the messaging app MessageMe was cut off from access to data because it had grown too popular and could compete with Facebook.
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  • The document dump comes as Facebook and Zuckerberg are facing widespread criticism over the company's political advertising policy, which allows candidates for elected office to lie in the ads they pay to circulate on the platform. It also comes as 47 state attorneys general, led by Letitia James of New York, are investigating the social media giant for antitrust violations.
  • The call from Sanders (I-Vt.) Wednesday to break up Facebook follows similar but less definitive statements from the senator. One of Sanders' rivals in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), released her plan to "Break Up Big Tech" in March. Zuckerberg is among the opponents of Warren's proposal, which also targets other major technology companies like Amazon and Google.
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