A bipartisan group of US senators and representatives have urged the Department of Justice to investigate whether Apple violated antitrust laws by attempting to block Beeper Mini's access to iMessage. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT), along with Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Ken Buck (R-CO), have asked an assistant attorney general to look into “potentially anticompetitive conduct” by Apple.
There have been a number of efforts in recent months to provide Android users with access to iMessage via workarounds. Earlier this month, Beeper said it was able to reverse engineer the iMessage protocol and support it on Android devices. Within a couple of days, Beeper Mini's iMessage integration was acting up and Apple (without elaborating too much) soon confirmed it had blocked an iMessage exploit.
It didn't take long for Beeper to find yet another way to get iMessage working on Android, though this time it required an Apple ID. Last week, the company said it suspected Apple was "deliberately blocking iMessages from being delivered" to around five percent of Beeper Mini users and that it was working on a solution.
The back and forth between Beeper and Apple caught the attention of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). "Green bubble texts are less secure. So why would Apple block a new app allowing Android users to chat with iPhone users on iMessage? Big Tech executives are protecting profits by squashing competitors," Warren wrote on X. "Chatting between different platforms should be easy and secure."
Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded to a question about improving iOS-Android communication compatibility by telling a journalist to "buy your mom an iPhone."
Senator @amyklobuchar + @SenMikeLee + @RepJerryNadler @RepKenBuck sent this to DOJ regarding ongoing fight betwn Beeper Mini vs Apple “to investigate whether this potentially anticompetitive conduct by Apple violated antitrust laws.” I’ll have the full story on @CBSMornings tmrw pic.twitter.com/pj6ef432TK
— Jo Ling Kent (@jolingkent) December 18, 2023
"Interoperability and interconnection have long been key drivers of competition and consumer choice in communications services," lawmakers noted in their letter to the DOJ. "But consumers will never benefit from competition if dominant firms are allowed to snuff out that competition at its incipiency."
As such, the officials are "concerned that Apple's recent actions to disable Beeper Mini harm competition, eliminate choices for consumers and will discourage future innovation and investment in interoperable messaging services. We also fear these types of tactics may more broadly chill future investment and innovation from those that seek to compete with existing digital gatekeepers. Thus, we refer this matter to the Antitrust Division to investigate whether this potentially anticompetitive conduct by Apple violated the antitrust laws."
Apple has made at least one commitment to improving messaging interoperability. The company has pledged to support the RCS protocol starting in 2024, after years of Google openly pressuring Apple to do so. Adopting RCS will mean that messaging between iPhone and Android will be more secure than SMS and allow for higher-quality media sharing.