Apple at the antitrust hearings: Two misses and a hit

Compared with Facebook's Zuckerberg, Amazon's Bezos and Google's Pichai, Tim Cook got off easy.

At Wednesday's marathon antitrust hearings, Cook got the fewest questions (31 to Zuckerberg's 67) and suffered the least damage. Among the millions of documents and hundreds of hours of interviews collected during a year-long antitrust investigation, there wan't much that touched Apple.

By contrast, Mark Zuckerberg got nailed with personal emails in which he talked about buying Instagram out of fear that it could "meaningfully hurt us." Jeff Bezos had to watch videotaped testimony from a textbook reseller that Amazon had squashed like a grape. And Sundar Pichai was asked to answer for Google lifting restaurant reviews directly from Yelp and offering them as its own.

Here's what Cook had to face:

  • Rep. Gerry Nadler (D. NY) quoted from the testimony of Basecamp's David Heinemeier Hansson, who famously accused Apple of acting like "gangsters" when they pulled Hey off the shelves for not giving Apple its 30% cut. But Nadler's files hadn't been updated, and Cook was able to dodge that bullet. “Hey is in the store today," he said, "and we’re happy they’re there.”
  • Rep. Hank Johnson (D. GA) didn't ask about the many ways Apple Music is advantaged over Spotify (not a U.S. company), but did ask what would stop Apple from raising its 30% rate to 50%. To that Cook could point out that Apple has never raised its App Store rate, and in fact has cut it in half after the first year.
  • Joe Neguse (D, CO) came closest to drawing blood when he quoted a developer agreement that bars third-party developers from putting copy-cat apps on the App Store but doesn't stop Apple from copying whatever it wants. "We would never steal somebody’s IP," Cook said, splitting a hair. But as the Washington Post's Reed Albergotti pointed out today in "Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google grilled on Capitol Hill over their market power":

The practice at Apple has a name: “Sherlocking,” which originated from an old story in which Apple co-founder Steve Jobs copied a search tool called Watson, using it in Apple’s own tool it called Sherlock.

Apple continues the practice to this day, something generally accepted as normal in the software development industry. As Steve Jobs once said: “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas."

My take: Facebook, Google and Amazon were caught red-handed. Whether Congress is smart enough to do something about it is another matter. Apple will be just fine.

One more thing: Jim Jordan should put his mask on and keep it there.


  1. David Emery said:
    Apple has a clear unchallenged monopoly in one market, “iPhone app marketplace.” Whether that “market” meets the legal definition for monopoly law will be something that lawyers make big bucks to argue in court (if it comes to that.)

    The one Apple policy that I find to be very objectionable is their “don’t compete with our apps” policy. In particular, I’m very annoyed I can’t buy Kindle books on my iPad, that is an objectionable exercise of monopoly power. Of course, one reason is that Amazon continues to be able to undercut -its competitors- in that marketplace, thanks to the idiotic DoJ pursuit of Apple’s eBooks ‘most favored’ agreements.

    I’d much rather see Apple compete by being the best, rather than preventing alternatives.

    July 30, 2020
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      @ David Emery —

      Concerning your statement — “I’m very annoyed I can’t buy Kindle books on my iPad, that is an objectionable exercise of monopoly power.“

      You can place Kindle books in the (non-Apple) Amazon Kindle app on your iPad/iPhone where Amazon receives all your money and Apple receives nothing but the good will of making it happen.

      Ordering is more of a “bother“, than a “can’t”, you probably already know this and shame on you for misconstruing it. Let us not whine should a fix be simple. 😉

      It’s certainly not a monopolistic power-play.

      July 31, 2020
  2. Steven Philips said:
    I can read Kindle books on my iPad just fine.
    I rarely do. In the early days their formatting was terrible. I preferred Apple Books.
    (I really still MUCH prefer real books.)

    July 30, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      I can read them, but I can’t order them.

      July 30, 2020
  3. Fred Stein said:
    The one ‘hit’, re Sherlocking, relies on quotes in an article outside the hearing from a man who died nearly ten years ago.

    As PR or theatre, that may count as hit.

    For the House’s real job, legislation, it’s useless.

    For copying ideas, copyright protection does not apply. And for good reason.

    July 30, 2020
    • John Kirk said:
      Steve Jobs was paraphrasing Picasso:

      “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

      Does anyone think Picasso – one of the most original artists of all time – actually stole from others? It’s a metaphor. It means one should make great ideas their own, not just “borrow” them.

      July 30, 2020
      • Kirk DeBernardi said:
        @ John Kirk —

        In the art world methinks…

        Copy = replicate without the soul intact.
        Steal = incorporate with the soul intact.

        Steve was probably thinking the same.

        July 31, 2020

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