Apple has denied copying competitors’ ideas at a senate antitrust hearing. The news comes in a week where the tech giant announced a smattering of new products, dealt with ransomware threats and saw Facebook submit to its new data tracking policy.
The iPhone maker’s chief compliance officer Kyle Andeer was grilled at a senate hearing on Wednesday about whether or not the $2tn company stifles competition. Google’s senior director of public policy and government relations Wilson White was also along for the ride and faced the same barrage of questions.
During the hearing, Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal cross-examined them both about whether their companies had put up “firewalls” between their developing teams and data feeds from third-party apps in the App Store and the Google Store. The separation, Blumenthal argued, would prevent the Silicon Valley top dogs from copying features from smaller firms and thus run them out of business, TechCrunch reported.
Over the years, Apple has been accused of doing just that against apps like desktop widget maker Konfabulator, podcast manager iPodderX, website builder Sandvox and secondary-display startup Luna.
Andeer answered that Apple “have controls in place” to prevent that and that the “handful of applications and services” it has introduced over the last decade have “dozens of alternatives” on the App Store.
“We don’t copy. We don’t kill. What we do is offer up a new choice and a new innovation,” Andeer stated.
Google’s representative said the company has “a prohibition against using our third-party services to compete directly with our first-party services” and “internal policies that govern that.”
The hearing is the latest in a string of events that highlight how regulators and lawmakers are increasingly questioning whether Apple’s dominant market position chokes competition.
Speaking recently with Verdict, GlobalData senior analyst Laura Petrone said: “Antitrust scrutiny is challenging Apple’s digital services, its largest revenue source after the iPhone. Until recently, Apple’s business model has been mainly scrutinised by European regulators, to the extent that the EU launched a twin antitrust investigation on Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay in 2019-2020. But the tide seems to be turning: the US Department of Justice and a coalition of state attorneys took the first steps last year towards launching an antitrust probe against Apple, similar to the lawsuit launched against Google earlier in 2020.”
Apple’s antitrust concerns also involves several lawsuits – including the highly-publicised court case against Fortnite developer Epic – that all pertain to if Apple’s control of the App Store gives it an unfair advantage and enables it to squeeze out an extortionate commission from app developers.
Shiny new things
Apple’s antitrust woes weren’t the only things grabbing the headlines this week. Apple also hosted its highly anticipated spring event on Tuesday. The event saw the Cupertino-headquartered company announce a new iMac, iPad Pro, iPhone 12, a new chip and AirTag, a solution for tagging things like keys and wallets. The announcements have so far been well-received, although some punters wondered why there was no news about a new iPad Mini or an Apple Pencil 3.
The week also marked Apple’s latest foray into the world of fintech. Having previously introduced features like Apple Pay and its Apple Card, Cupertino also unveiled its new Apple Card Family. The new card aims to empower households to build a credit history together, and will be rolled out in the US in May.
“We designed Apple Card Family because we saw an opportunity to reinvent how spouses, partners, and the people you trust most share credit cards and build credit together,” said Jennifer Bailey, vice president of Apple Pay. “There’s been a lack of transparency and consumer understanding in the way credit scores are calculated when there are two users of the same credit card, since the primary account holder receives the benefit of building a strong credit history while the other does not. Apple Card Family lets people build their credit history together equally.”
Apple has also announced an addition to its advertising business. The App Store’s search page will host a new “suggested” section at the end of April, the Financial Times reported. The new slot will enable advertisers to promote apps across the entire network and not just for specific searches.
In a week where Apple’s antitrust problems were hotly debated on Capitol Hill, Cupertino also managed to bring another tech titan to heel: Facebook.
Next week, Apple is set to update its iPhone software. The highly anticipated update will include a new feature enabling users to opt out of apps tracking their activities.
Research from digital experience company Acquia suggested that 63% of consumers supported that initiative. It also found that 81% of marketers also backed it.
Facebook has long been at loggerheads with Apple about the new app-tracking transparency feature. It has argued that the feature would take a massive cut out of its advertisement revenues as the majority of users are expected to opt out of being tracked.
Nevertheless, it now seems as if Facebook has now yielded and accepted that the iOS 14.5 changes are coming. On Wednesday, Facebook announced that it would introduce new advertiser experiences and measurement protocols to “restrict, aggregate and delay reporting, while continuing to enable the measurement of campaign results.”
“Advertisers can expect to see changes in Facebook’s business and advertising tools set up, audience selection, delivery, measurement, and reporting,” Facebook said in a statement. “For example, if you’re an app advertiser, you’ll need to run iOS 14 mobile app install advertising within one ad account and will be limited to nine campaigns per app; and if you use web events to optimise and measure your campaigns, you will be limited to optimising for no more than eight events on each domain that you own.”
REvil is a notorious hacking group that has previously targeted Acer, Pierre Fabre and Asteelflash. This week, the cybercriminals turned their attention towards Apple by hacking notebook manufacturers and Apple business partner Quanta Computer. The hackers said that they had stolen a bulk of confidential data from the Taiwanese company, including schematics and diagrams of MacBook computers, according to BleepingComputer.
REvil has threatened to leak the documents and personal data of employees and customers unless a $50m ransom is paid by 27 April. Once the deadline passes, REvil will double the ransom to $100m.
Some of the documents already leaked have the codenames J314 and J316 and are dated to March 2021. 9to5Mac noted that those were the codenames designated to the upcoming 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models, according to a January Bloomberg report.
Quanta – which also counts Lenovo and Microsoft among its customers – has so far refused to pay the ransom. Quanta has stated that it is in contact with relevant law enforcement agencies.
According to cybersecurity experts and analysts, the hack attack follows a trend where cybercriminals are increasing their attacks.
“Targeted ransomware attacks on large companies have become quite common, especially over the past few years,” said Denis Legezo, senior security researcher at Kasperky. “One specific attack, even on an organisation known worldwide, will not change the way things are operated. But we hope that the reaction to this trend will include the introduction of information security events monitoring; complex cybersecurity systems, including for proactive detection of attacks; and enhanced training of employees around cybersecurity rules.”