- The Washington Times
Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Microsoft outlined Wednesday a new vision for its app store business that aims to court support among regulators and lawmakers who are dogging market leaders such as Apple and Google.  

Microsoft President Brad Smith said the tech giant’s new approach is part of its effort to win regulatory approval from governments around the world for its acquisition of game developer Activision Blizzard in a deal Microsoft has valued at $68.7 billion. 

“Our vision is to enable gamers to play any game on any device anywhere, including by streaming from the cloud,” Mr. Smith wrote on his company’s blog. “App stores on the most relevant and popular devices like mobile phones; PCs, including Windows PCs; and, in time, the cloud, are important to realizing this vision. But too much friction exists today between creators and gamers; app store policies and practices on mobile devices restrict what and how creators can offer games and what and how gamers can play them.”

To remove such friction, Mr. Smith created 11 “Open App Store Principles” that will guide Microsoft and show the company is “adapting ahead of regulation.”

The principles include such things as respecting privacy and allowing consumers to manage their own data, not using non-public data from its app store to compete with developers’ apps and foregoing “unreasonable preferencing or ranking of our apps” over others, among other things. 

The principles’ attention to self-preferencing, data and privacy are concerns that are central to legislation advanced in recent weeks by the Senate Judiciary Committee looking to crack down on Microsoft’s big tech competitors. 

Last week, the committee advanced the Open App Markets Act for final consideration by the full Senate. The bill focuses on Apple and Google’s app stores and would impose rules preventing the platforms from requiring app developers to use a payment system controlled by the big tech companies. 

Last month, the committee pushed through the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would block big tech companies from preferencing their products to the detriment of competitors on their platforms. The bill was vehemently opposed by Apple and Google

Microsoft has some allies in the federal government that Apple and Google do not. Rep. Ken Buck, Colorado Republican who has partnered with Democrats on antitrust legislation fixated on tech, told The Washington Post last month that Microsoft‘s assurances about competition surrounding its Activision Blizzard acquisition were encouraging. 

Microsoft also has avoided the scrutiny that its competitors have faced. A House antitrust panel’s final 450-page report in 2020 on the dominant market power of tech companies scrutinized Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, but not Microsoft

Biden administration regulators from the Federal Trade Commission have refused to tip their hand on how they view the Microsoft acquisition of Activision Blizzard, but Microsoft does not appear to be cowed. According to Bloomberg, Microsoft is pursuing acquiring the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, which has a multibillion-dollar market valuation. 

Both Microsoft and Mandiant work regularly with the federal government on all sorts of cybersecurity matters, and some taxpayers’ dollars spent through a COVID-19 relief package were reportedly routed to Microsoft.

An unknown portion of the $650 million sent to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency by President Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill last year went to Microsoft, according to Reuters, which reported the ultimate expenditure may reach $150 million.

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

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