- The Washington Times
Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday bashed federal antitrust efforts to lessen the App Store’s dominance of e-commerce, saying it would leave iPhone users more vulnerable to cyberattackers. 

Apple is facing growing scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers who say Apple’s and Google’s requirements for app developers are anti-competitive. Mr. Cook said his policy opponents have good intentions but are misguided. 

“Proponents of these regulations argue that no harm would be done by simply giving people a choice, but taking away a more secure option will leave users with less choice, not more,” Mr. Cook said at the International Association of Privacy Professionals summit in Washington. “And when companies decide to leave the App Store because they want to exploit user data, it could put significant pressure on people to engage with alternate app stores — app stores where their privacy and security may not be protected.” 

Apple has fought vigorously against efforts to diminish its dominance, and Mr. Cook has directly sought to influence congressional action. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said this year that he spoke with the Apple CEO for 40 minutes the day before the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance antitrust legislation aimed at large technology companies. 

Mr. Cruz voted to advance the American Innovation and Choice Online Act out of the judiciary committee. The legislation, which Mr. Cook opposes, would limit large technology companies from giving preference to their own products. It has stalled in the Senate.

The divide over the proposal has split senators into unusual competing factions. Co-sponsor Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, are pitted against Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Mike Lee, Utah Republican. 

Mr. Lee has expressed concern that the legislation would give the Biden administration sweeping power. Ms. Feinstein said the bill appears to be targeted against companies in her home state. 

Apple also has opposed the Open App Markets Act, which would put restrictions on Apple’s App Store. That bill is also awaiting final consideration by the full Senate. 

Apple wrote to the Judiciary Committee this year to argue that the Open App Markets Act would harm consumer privacy and security. 

Mr. Cook did not name the specific bills he opposes, but he panned the Washington policy focus on encouraging competition in the tech sector without considering the bad actors he said such a policy would help.  

His jabs at lawmakers and regulators on Tuesday are among his most public criticism of the antitrust storm brewing in Washington and the Western world. 

“Here in Washington and elsewhere, policymakers are taking steps in the name of competition that would force Apple to let apps onto iPhone that circumvent the App Store through a process called ‘sideloading,’” Mr. Cook said at the conference. “That means data-hungry companies would be able to avoid our privacy rules and once again track our users against their will. It would also potentially give bad actors a way around the comprehensive security protections we’ve put in place.” 

He cited COVID-tracing apps that installed ransomware on devices. The apps are not available on the App Store

Big Tech critic Matt Stoller, research director at the liberal American Economic Liberties Project, said in a series of Twitter posts that Mr. Cook’s privacy-centric argument is misleading. 

Apple tried to refuse unlocking an iPhone to help solve a shooting at a Navy base in Pensacola,” Mr. Stoller said in one tweet. “There was a court warrant, so this wasn’t some glorious stand on privacy.” 

Others said Mr. Cook’s speech was attentive to voters’ concerns. The liberal Chamber of Progress, which counts Apple as a corporate partner, shared a video of Mr. Cook’s remarks on Twitter and said the cybersecurity risks he identified facing consumers matter to voters. 

“Legislation that forces phone makers to open up devices to ‘sideloading’ and app-store-workarounds puts users at risk,” the Chamber of Progress tweeted. “Lawmakers should be listening to voters — polling shows Americans’ top tech concern is cybersecurity.” 

Mr. Cook insisted he is not opposed to competition but does not like Washington’s approach to assisting his competitors. 

“We appreciate that supporters of these ideas have good intentions, but if we are forced to let unvetted apps onto iPhone, the unintended consequences will be profound,” Mr. Cook said. 

The antitrust challenges facing Apple are not limited to the U.S. A European Union antitrust charge resulting from a complaint brought by Spotify is likely to hit Apple in a matter of weeks, according to a Reuters report.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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