Three US senators have introduced a bill that would limit the power of tech companies like Google and Apple in their app stores. According to the bill, developers must be able to use their own payment systems, among other things.
The bill, which is called the Open App Markets Act, states, among other things, that tech companies may not force developers to use their payment systems. “A company should not require developers to use an in-app payment system owned or operated by the company or one of its business partners.”
According to the proposal, the makers of app stores are also not allowed to take action against developers who offer lower prices in another app store or through their own payment system. The senators also want to require operating system companies to allow users to install third-party app stores. This is already possible on Android, but Apple doesn’t allow it on iOS and iPadOS.
The proposal would further make it illegal for companies like Apple and Google to use non-public data from their app stores to develop products that compete with companies that use those app stores to distribute their apps. “A company may not use non-public company data from a third-party app for the purpose of competing with that app,” the bill reads.
The proposal does, however, leave room open for the makers of app stores to defend themselves. According to the bill, a company is not in violation if it can demonstrate that a policy is ‘necessary to ensure the privacy, security or digital safety of users’. The policy of an app store must be demonstrably consistent for apps from all developers, including those of the company behind the app store itself. In addition, the policy should not be used as a pretext to exclude third parties, and the company must be able to prove that there is no other way to ensure user privacy and security.
The bill would apply to all tech companies that operate a large app store, but US Senator Richard Blumenthal focuses specifically on Apple and Google in an explanation. “For years, Apple and Google have stymied competitors and left consumers in the dark. They have racked up hefty profits while acting as supposedly benevolent gatekeepers to this multi-billion dollar market. I am proud to partner with Senators Blackburn and Klobuchar on this breakthrough. against the harassment of Big Tech,” the senator wrote.
With the bill, the three senators take a similar position as Epic Games, which is currently involved in lawsuits against Apple and Google. Those two companies removed Fortnite from their respective app stores after Epic Games incorporated its own payment system into that game to evade commissions from Apple and Google. The first hearings in the lawsuit against Apple were held in May and a ruling in that case is expected later this year. The lawsuit between Epic Games and Google has yet to start.