The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday aimed at tackling the dominance of major tech companies, particularly Apple and Google, in mobile app stores.
The Open App Markets Act, introduced in August 2021 by Republican Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, would prevent app stores such as Google Play and Apple’s App Store from requiring developers to use the tech giants’ in-app payment systems as a condition of distribution. This requirement, the bill’s authors argue, allows Apple and Google to collect large commissions on in-app payments, to the detriment of app developers.
The panel passed the bill 21-1, with only Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn voting against approval. The bill will now head to the Senate floor.
Republican Colorado Rep. Ken Buck and Democratic Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson have also introduced a House companion to the legislation.
“It is important that our legislative agenda adapts with the times, and technology has outpaced legislation to such a grave extent that more burdensome measures are now necessary to reign in big tech,” Blackburn said in her prepared remarks. “I’m not here to break up companies, but I am here to put executives and boards on notice.
The committee approved a manager’s amendment to the bill introduced by Blumenthal that aims to clarify language allowing tech companies to enforce certain privacy and cybersecurity requirements on app developers. Republican North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis proposed three amendments, each of which were rejected, while Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz withdrew one amendment after being assured the bill would be focused on “monopolists.”
Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced her opposition to parts of the bill, arguing that as the legislation only covered companies with over 50 million users a month, it was intended to target Apple, Google and Microsoft.
“I’m concerned this number was selected as a way to single out particular companies, three California companies,” Feinstein said.
Cornyn stressed the need for a hearing on the bill, arguing that cybersecurity and privacy concerns posed by the legislation were not properly addressed and focusing on the national security threat posed by Chinese hacking of devices. Klobuchar dismissed these concerns as “another argument by the tech companies” much to the chagrin of several Republican senators.
“I’m being told that every time I ask a question I’m in the pocket of Big Tech,” Republican Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy said, referring to Klobuchar’s statement.
Apple and Google, the two companies most affected by the legislation, echoed Cornyn’s arguments, arguing the bill would degrade consumer privacy and security. Apple maintained that by allowing “sideloading” of apps, or the downloading of apps on Apple devices from outside the App Store, consumers could inadvertently download dangerous apps or malware.
Apple senior director of government affairs Tim Powderly reportedly sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members Wednesday arguing the bill would force app stores to allow unvetted apps, which “erects a nearly insurmountable obstacle for all but the most basic [privacy] safeguards” and risks allowing malware.
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