Facebook blasts Apple power in newly released comments to government

Meta slammed Apple’s market power in the mobile app industry in comments for a federal agency’s report on the app ecosystem released Thursday.

Meta’s stance escalates the feud between the two industry heavyweights and puts Facebook’s parent company in opposition to the industry groups trying to defend the competitiveness of the app market as the Biden administration cracks down on tech giants’ power. 

In 19 pages of comments, Meta almost entirely focuses on criticizing Apple. 

The multibillion-dollar company, which is itself the target of a key federal antitrust lawsuit, paints a picture of Apple as a behemoth that is constraining Meta’s ability to expand. 

“Despite having some of the most popular apps in the world, Meta’s ability to innovate on its products and services and even reach its customers is determined, and in some cases, significantly limited, by the most popular mobile operating systems, such as Apple’s iOS,” Meta wrote. 

Meta accused Apple of engaging for years in a “pattern of business conduct designed to lock consumers into iOS devices and deter them from switching to Android or other devices.”

The comments were made to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is conducting a report on competition in the mobile app ecosystem as part of the Department of Commerce’s work to review the market as directed under a sweeping executive order on competition from President Biden.

Other relatively smaller tech companies, mostly app developers, have targeted Apple’s market power as well. The Coalition for App Fairness, a group that represents companies including Epic Games, Match Group and Spotify, filed a comment to the NTIA that also criticizes the Apple’s App Store.

While Meta’s comments seem to solely target Apple’s power, the Coalition for App Fairness also targeted Google, another dominant company in the field.

“There is a large body of research and analysis, specific to the app store ecosystem, which was carried out in the U.S. and by government entities in other jurisdictions, that all come to essentially the same conclusion: Apple and Google have gatekeeper power over app distribution on iOS and Android, respectively, which allows them to impose unfair terms and conditions on app developers and engage in other abusive conduct,” the group wrote. 

A Google spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. 

Facebook for years has feuded with Apple. The fight between the tech giants grew last year, when Apple rolled out a privacy feature that limits the reach of targeted ads by requiring apps to ask users for permission before tracking them. 

Facebook’s business model thrives off selling targeted ads, and the company branded Apple’s update as focused on profit. But Apple said the move was made to give users more control over their data collection. 

In a 15-page comment submitted for the NTIA report, Apple defended its app store as a “pro-consumer and pro-developer economic engine for app developers.” 

Part of Apple’s defense is focused around security and privacy features it provides for consumers. The tech giant used a similar defense in a lawsuit against Epic Games, the developer behind Fortnite, and in hearings with lawmakers looking to add further regulations to how dominant app stores operate. 

Apple also highlighted third-party apps’ success in its App Store, even among those that compete with Apple-owned rivals, showcasing the popularity of Spotify over Apple Music or Google Maps over Apple’s Maps app. 

Apple’s comment pointed to Instagram and Facebook Messenger, both under the Meta umbrella, as among the most frequently downloaded free iPhone apps in 2021 as well.

“In all sectors, third-party developers thrive. Users rely on multiple third-party apps to communicate, listen to music, consume other media, and travel (among many others),” Apple wrote. 

The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), of which Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google are all members, sent similar comments to the NTIA defending the competitiveness of the app market. 

“Growth and innovation in the mobile app ecosystem, together with rapid advancements in the power and diversity of mobile devices, have created a fiercely competitive environment benefiting consumers, developers, and the computer industry,” the CCIA wrote. 

The CCIA also touted app stores’ “investments in privacy and security systems that protect consumers” and the “low fees that some developers pay for hosting their products” on the stores as a way to “minimize barriers to entry and allow companies to continue investment in the ongoing development of protections that safeguard consumers.” 

Both Google’s and Apple’s app stores charge up to 30 percent commission fees from app developers for some in-app purchases, which has been a sticking point between the dominant companies and developers.

Relatively smaller tech companies that run popular apps have been urging Congress and the Biden administration to take action against the power of dominant app store companies, namely Apple and Google.

In the comments filed by the Coalition for App Fairness, the group also backed a bipartisan proposal, which advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year, that aims to rein in the power of dominant app stores in part by limiting them from collecting the commission fees and restricting them from blocking developers from using alternative payment systems.

The Coalition for App Fairness called the Open App Markets Act an “indispensable measure to level the playing field for app developers who rely on Google and Apple to reach consumers, and ensure a consistent standard of conduct across the app ecosystem.”

“Left unchecked, dominant digital platforms such as Apple and Google, will continue to act as gatekeepers and toll-takers between businesses and consumers,” the group wrote. “It is, thus, critical that the U.S. government take action to enact bipartisan legislation, now pending in Congress, that would prohibit much of the harmful conduct that [Coalition for App Fairness] has identified in these comments.”