Senators target Apple’s App Store with new ‘Open App Markets Act’

There is a lot of attention being put on Apple’s App Store these days. And Google‘s own option, Google Play, too, but certainly more in Apple’s direction. Many people want change, including the likes of Epic Games (and Spotify and others). And some United States Senators are leaning in the same direction.

A new bill (the “Open App Markets Act“) introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, introduced by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), would ban digital app stores from the likes of Apple and Google from forcing developers to rely solely on the store’s first-party payment system. While Apple does allow for third-party payment options in very select scenarios, the vast majority of apps available in the App Store must use Apple’s first-party payment system when paying for things directly within the app.

Many apps bypass this by not allowing users to pay for things within the app, including subscriptions. Spotify, Netflix, and many others simply don’t offer the option, instead relying on their own websites to let interested folks sign up for their services.

The bill also bars companies from “punishing developers that offer lower prices on a separate app store or through their own payment systems”, per The Verge. One more thing the bill introduces: barring companies like Apple from using non-public data to create competing applications that rival third-party alternatives. The bill would also make it so companies would need to allow third-party app stores and even side-loading of apps.

Blumenthal had this to say in a statement following the submission of the bill to the Senate:

For years, Apple and Google have squashed competitors and kept consumers in the dark—pocketing hefty windfalls while acting as supposedly benevolent gatekeepers of this multi-billion dollar market. This bipartisan bill will help break these tech giants’ ironclad grip, open the app economy to new competitors, and give mobile users more control over their own devices.

In a separate statement, the Coalition for App Fairness (of which Spotify and Epic Games and Tile are associated) weighed in:

We have worked toward creating a fairer and more competitive app marketplace for both developers and consumers. The bipartisan Open App Markets Act is a step towards holding big tech companies accountable for practices that stifle competition for developers in the U.S. and around the world.

Epic Games launched its own war against the App Store and Google Play via its mega-popular battle royale game Fortnite. At the time, and ever since, Epic Games has argued that Apple (and Google) are strangling the app market in general, stifling competition, and much more. As of right now, a federal judge is reviewing that case, and we’re all just waiting on a determination.