NYTimes calls for William Barr to investigate Apple

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Calls status quo at the App Store “untenable.”


From Why Does Apple Control Its Competitors?, the lead editorial in Friday’s New York Times.

Of the 17 most popular screen-time and parental-control apps in the App Store, 11 have been removed or restricted by Apple. The app makers believe they are being punished for competing with Apple’s own screen-time control tools, or worse, for weaning people off Apple devices. Many of the apps had more stringent controls than Apple’s in-house alternatives.

Apple says that the applications — specifically, the parental-control apps — were removed because of their use of Mobile Device Management, a technology that gave third parties access to information such as “user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions and browsing history.” In other words, Apple says it removed the apps to protect the privacy of the children and parents who installed them.

The actions by Apple highlight the inherent tension in the company’s fierce control over its mobile operating system: On the one hand, the closed environment is a boon to consumer privacy because the company has the leverage to insist upon it; on the other hand, that environment fosters a kind of monopoly…

Even if we take Apple at its word that it was only protecting the privacy and security of its users by removing screen-time and parental-control apps, the state of the app marketplace is troubling. Why is a company — with no mechanism for democratic oversight — the primary and most zealous guardian of user privacy and security? Why is one company in charge of vetting what users can or cannot do on their phones, especially when that company also makes apps that compete in a marketplace that it controls?…

The status quo is untenable. It’s time for American regulators to take a good hard look at app stores and mobile operating systems. It might be time for another United States v. Microsoft.

My take: Or maybe not. The United States might have bigger fish to fry right now.

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