House bill takes aim at iOS and Android app store competition

The Open App Markets Act is a companion to a Senate bill that was introduced earlier this week.

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App Store icon displayed on a phone screen is seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on July 18, 2021.  (Photo Ilustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

A bipartisan bill that targets app store competition has been introduced in the House of Representatives. It's the House version of a Senate bill that was introduced this week by a group of Republican and Democrat senators, and it would likely have a drastic impact on Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store were it to come into effect.

"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," Ken Buck, the ranking Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee antitrust panel, wrote in a tweet. As Reuters notes, Buck introduced the bill alongside Democrat Hank Johnson. 

Should the Open App Markets Act become law, it could level the playing field for third-party app stores and in-app payment services. Using a third-party app marketplace on an iPhone is difficult without jailbreaking the device. Google says Android 12 makes it easier for users to install apps from other stores, but it still requires developers to handle payments through the Play Store's billing process.

Both Apple and Google take a 30 percent cut of in-app payments. That's a key reason why the likes of Spotify and Netflix don't allow users to sign up through mobile apps. They direct users to their mobile websites instead.

"Apple has used the iOS platform and its App Store policies to insulate itself from competition and disadvantage rivals for far too long," Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s head of global affairs and chief legal officer, told Engadget in a statement. "By introducing the Open App Markets Act in both chambers of Congress, we’re one important step closer to curbing Apple’s anticompetitive behavior, leveling the playing field, and restoring competition for all.” The company has accused Apple of operating as a monopoly on iOS.

The bill would also allow developers to inform consumers about lower prices elsewhere, according to its sponsors. Epic Games' legal battles with Apple and Google kicked off when it offered mobile Fortnite players a discount on virtual goods if they bypassed the iOS and Android payment systems. Apple and Google swiftly removed the game from their app stores and Epic responded quickly by filing lawsuits against both companies. A judge's decision is pending in the Apple case.

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