Of the five House bills, two could bruise Apple

Self-preferencing (No. 2) and data interoperability (No. 5) would force major changes in Apple’s MO.

From The Verge’s “House lawmakers introduce five bipartisan bills to unwind tech monopolies” posted Friday 

The package unveiled Friday includes five measures targeting the different ways in which tech companies maintain market dominance. 

    1. One bill would empower the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission to break up tech firms by forcing them to sell off parts of their business that could create a conflict of interest — potentially forcing Amazon to carve off house brands like Amazon Basics.
    2. Another bill would bar companies from giving their own services preference over their rivals, like Google boosting its own products in search results over competitors.
    3. Yet another bill would block companies like Facebook from buying up nascent competitors like in the 2012 acquisition of Instagram.
    4. The last two bills are less controversial. Last week, the Senate already passed a measure put out by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would boost merger filing fees for large companies, giving antitrust enforcers more money to take on cases. A bill mirroring that legislation was introduced Wednesday.
    5. The last bill would force platforms to make the data they collect interoperable in order to make it easier for users to jump from one service to another. Both Republicans and Democrats seem eager to move forward on data portability legislation. (numbering mine)

My take: This is big. A for effort. How much gets through the Senate remains to be seen.

19 Comments

  1. David Emery said:
    #5 is interesting in implementation. The canonical example is probably portable telephone numbers. A lot of engineering went into that, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_number_portability Note it took a specific ‘plan administrator’ to pull this off, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight.

    Making more than the phone part of a Cell Phone data-interoperable strikes me as a very complex undertaking, and I’m not sure at all how it would be implemented without some sort of technically competent 3rd party to manage the effort and resolve all the technical issues and business rules.

    See also https://dilbert.com/strip/1994-10-17

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    June 11, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      Before digital every telephone “number” had a corresponding equipment number. That equipment number was a specific port to which your telephone was connected. The limitations of early telephone system came from its electro-magnetic framework. Early electronic systems were limited by the same basic design. Your telephone was identified on the PSTN (public switched telephone network) by a physical port. Telephone numbers were assigned in banks of 10,000 to specific telephone offices. This made it easier (as opposed to impossible with electro-magnetic) to locate a specific telephone on the PTSN.

      Digital changed all that. The identifier was not a physical port on a local exchange, it was an embedded code within the handset. Now it didn’t matter WHERE your phone was, the PTSN could find you. Congress likes to think it forced the change. The reality was that the proliferation of telecommunication devices (primarily modems and fax machines) made portability an absolute necessity. Transportable telephone number took the pressure off the finite supply of telephone numbers.

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      June 12, 2021
      • David Emery said:
        Of course, just because you -can- do something, doesn’t mean you -will- do it 🙂 The business problems that the law forced were probably harder than the technical problems for the organizations involved.

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        June 12, 2021
  2. Fred Stein said:
    The last one, data portability, sounds like a good idea. It may be hard to define, legislate and enforce. And it raises questions about how the old ‘big tech’ companies IBM, Oracle, and SalesForce, lock customers in by controlling their data / databases. A lot of .gov agencies are tenants-for-life to these big ol’ tech companies.

    If we could access all our personal data from LinkedIn (not including their secondary and tertiary metadata), that would be great.

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    June 11, 2021
    • Jerry Doyle said:
      @Fred Stein: “…. The last one, data portability, sounds like a good idea. It may be hard to define, legislate and enforce.”

      Agree Brother Fred. I wrote similarly in my comment before reading yours’. Your corroboration gives me consolation that I am comfortable (to a degree) with this section of the proposed legislation. It just needs to be fleshed out more and little doubt that this fleshing out will be done indeed.

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      June 11, 2021
    • David Drinkwater said:
      Even with Apple, for whom “it just works,” I find that every major upgrade is somewhat painful (lets say, and afternoon lost on a weekend).

      No matter how portable one may claim to make the data, it is still going to be a pain in the ass to move from one garden to the other – walls or moats or not.

      I remember trying to go from a Treo 650 to an iPhone 3G. Not a pleasant process. And no-one was “trying to make it difficult”. I don’t think Apple ever says “you can;t leave the Walled Garden”: they don’t have to, because people don’t *want* to.

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      June 12, 2021
  3. Jerry Doyle said:
    “…. Another bill would bar companies from giving their own services preference over their rivals,….”.

    I do hear complaints from Apple users of having to navigate additional steps to get to their library of music because Apple blocks initial access with ads to try 3 month’s free trail of Apple Music, which these users say they do not want and do not desire the perpetual imposition imposed on them by Apple’s incessant reminder offering.

    “…. Both Republicans and Democrats seem eager to move forward on data portability legislation.”

    The data portability legislation is palatable to me as it seems a legitimate means of introducing competitiveness between tech rivals to ensure they are providing highest quality services on a level playing field (no matter the cost offering) for users to decide which service better meets their needs.

    I am having a difficult time seeing how either of the proposals above addresses the App Store 30/15 fee; or am I correct that neither proposal does?

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    June 11, 2021
  4. Daniel Epstein said:
    Probably bad laws with unintended consequences trying to fix issues which need to be looked at but this is just the first draft. Who are they really protecting? More after I read them more closely. Just noting my IPad says this is posted on June 12 but still the 11th so where are you Philip!

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    June 11, 2021
  5. Jerry Doyle said:
    I assume the 30/15 split issue is covered by the Service Preference component of the proposed legislation. Bills often do not get into specificity. If the bill becomes law, laws always are written in broad terms, subject to interpretation. Specificity comes into play when bureaucrats take the law & decide Congressional intent through reading the law & all the back-up documents that went into writing of the law. I am please to say that I took part in writing of regulations for my former agency. Once the draft regulations are completed then we would hold Public Hearings in major cities across the nation for stakeholders to submit their written comments and to come to the Public Hearing to present. We then took their comments & convened once again in the writing of the final rules. Regulations subsequently are published in the Federal Register & the respected federal agency having oversight takes the regulations & write policy guidance giving even more specificity to the published federal regulations. It’s a laborious process & what we see here could be emasculated extensively. I think Apple will be fine.

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    June 11, 2021
    • Fred Stein said:
      Thanks Jerry, for the detail.

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      June 12, 2021
  6. Daniel Epstein said:
    This statement is pretty hollow in substance to me.
    “Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy. They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) said in a statement Friday.
    My take is the ails of our economy and society are not coming from Big Tech in the way the Rep Cicilline describes. Do we need laws to protect commerce yes! Are there anti trust concerns that should be acted on yes? Do you think the government knows how small businesses grow into Large businesses? Probably not. Protect me from bad actors but please remember the government can do great damage trying to manage who wins and loses in business and the economy. Probably as much as Big Tech. Maybe more.

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    June 11, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      Do we need laws to protect commerce yes!

      What we really need are enforceable laws to protect us from politicians.

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      June 12, 2021
  7. Ralph McDarmont said:
    I am troubled that grandstanding politicians can attack and damage successful businesses. Isn’t success what our nation is about? I have heard that Apple pays more taxes than any other US company. Regardless and with sincere eloquence, F the Senate. Maybe the grandstanders should fix something that needs fixing. Sorry PED I know you don’t want politics on your site.

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    June 11, 2021
  8. Ralph McDarmont said:
    Sorry PED. I suppose the F bomb was a violation but I get wrapped up in stuff. I suspect you do too with a bit more sensibility ✌️

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    June 11, 2021
  9. David Drinkwater said:
    “Another bill would bar companies from giving their own services preference over their rivals, like Google boosting its own products in search results over competitors.”

    Apple doesn’t *need* to give their own services preference over their rivals. All they need to do is slap a label on it: “Developer: Apple”

    Done deal. Many people will prefer it by default. (I don’t buy the “Kroger brand” by default. Sorry, it’s true.)

    When I just looked for “maps” for giggles, Google Maps came up on top of the list. I occasionally run both, but Apple Maps is on my Home Screen.

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    June 12, 2021
  10. Gregg Thurman said:
    The DOJ wants to stop Google’s purchased position as Apple’s default search engine.

    OK, fine, Apple buys Duck Duck Go (improves it) and makes it the default.

    Then the DOJ sues Apple for anticompetitive behavior.

    I’ll sound like a crazy but if it were 9:00AM in the morning, and a politician told me it was 9:00AM in the morning – I wouldn’t believe him/her. You never get what they say they are going to do. There are just too many chefs in the kitchen, each with a different agenda, to get a simple, easy to understand, enforceable law that doesn’t contain fine print that unnecessarily benefits their cronies.

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    June 12, 2021
  11. Joe Murphy said:
    @ “What we really need are enforceable laws to protect us from politicians.”

    We have one – Elections.
    “We the People” have long lamented that our politicians routinely and repeatedly serve their own agendas vs serving their constituents fairly. Then, we reelect em.

    As Walt Kelly’s Pogo said back in the 50’s: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

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    June 12, 2021
  12. All 5 packages there to rally constituents, make them think their Representative is fighting for the little guy. That’s the rationale for most legislation. In reality, these proposals further underline the need for Congress to hire better technology advisors and get industry input to avoid publicizing nonsense. Research takes time and elections loom.
    Pkg 1: Never happen to AAPL. Apple is a pie, integrated as tightly as an iPhone or iPad’s parts. Good luck slicing the others, though Amazon might offer an angle, the legal fight would go on for a decade.
    Pkg 2: Like telling the Chevy dealer she’s gotta put Acura’s on the front row? Krispy Kreme rack as you walk into Dunkin’ Donuts? Microbrewery gotta pour the grog brewed down the street too?
    Pkg 3: >$1 billion acquisitions already face plenty of scrutiny from regulatory and shareholder angles.
    Pkg.4: I’m impressed. We’re back to remembering enforcement costs $$. I’m onboard if we can hire more USDA food inspectors while we’re at it.
    Pkg.5: Non-issue. Android is all over this already. iPhone to Android, that’s the tough switch. I switched customers from the HTC models to 4G iPhones at a blistering pace, over the phone. Automated tool has worked for years now. Authorized retailers switch people’s data between devices all day. Major apps are on both platforms.
    Fast switching between AT&T to T-Mobile or Verizon or xFinity wireless services using eSIM technology would sure shake up the carriers but that’s not this pkg.

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    June 12, 2021

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