'We've all been neutered by what Apple did:' App makers are rallying against Apple's claims that it creates a level playing field for everyone
- Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company's App Store policies during a historic antitrust hearing on Wednesday.
- Lawmakers questioned whether Apple applies the same policies to all developers, and whether its position as the operator of the App Store gives it a competitive advantage.
- Cook said Apple treats "every developer the same" and called the App Store "a vibrant, competitive environment."
- But some app makers who have spoken out against Apple's rules in the past have pushed back on Cook's testimony.
Apple's App Store policies and its treatment of app developers were at the center of lawmakers' concerns about the iPhone maker during a historic antitrust hearing on Wednesday, which saw the CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon testify before Congress.
Some app developers, however, are pushing back against Cook's testimony that it treats all developers the same and creates a level playing field for app makers."To say that [the App Store] is a vibrant, competitive environment is just not true," Justin Payeur, president and cofounder of National Education Technologies, which makes a parental control app called Boomerang, said to Business Insider. Advertisement
Cook was grilled about the way Apple runs its App Store and whether the same set of rules apply to all developers when testifying before Congress on Wednesday. In one of the more pointed exchanges at Cook, Rep. Hank Johnson said Apple's position as the operator of the App Store gives the company "immense power over small businesses." Johnson also said that during the course of the House Antitrust Subcommittee's investigation, it heard concerns that Apple's App Store rules are "arbitrarily interpreted and enforced."
"We treat every developer the same," Cook said in response. "We have open and transparent rules, it's a rigorous process," Cook said in response. "Because we care so deeply about privacy and security and quality we do look at every app before it goes on. But those rules apply evenly to everyone."Cooks words reiterate Apple's stance on its App Store policies, which have come to light in recent years as developers have publicly taken issue with how the tech giant manages its App Store.
Apple said it was "committed to providing a competitive, innovative app ecosystem" back in April 2019, for example. That was in response to a New York Times report saying that Apple had removed or limited parental control apps in the App Store after launching its own screen time management feature.Some app makers who have felt wronged by Apple in the past said they were happy to see the issue raised before Congress. But they don't necessarily agree with Cook's responses. Dustin Dailey, director of product management for Eturi, the company behind parental control app OurPact, called Apple's rules "a moving target that is not evenly applied to everyone."Advertisement
"We are hopeful that Apple will recognize they are not the only developers capable of creating products with the user's best interest in mind as it related to data privacy and security," Dailey said to Business Insider via email. "And we hope Apple will put action behind their words and create a level playing field for everyone – themselves included."
Both OurPact and Boomerang were impacted by Apple's crackdown last year on apps that use a technology known as mobile device management, a tool commonly used by enterprise IT administrators to manage employee devices containing proprietary information.Apple said that it removed parental control apps from the App Store that use this technology because of privacy concerns. It later restored both apps to the App Store.Advertisement
Both Dailey and Payeur say that the concerns Apple cited had nothing to do with the way their apps were using MDM technology. Payeur says his company is still struggling with the ramifications of having been temporarily removed from the App Store.
"We've all been, for lack of a better term, neutered by what Apple did," Payeur said.David Heinemeier Hansson, cofounder and CEO of Basecamp, also spoke out following Cook's testimony arguing that Apple doesn't give all apps the same treatment. Basecamp recently made headlines after company executives rallied against Apple's decision to initially reject an update to its paid email app Hey for not using the iPhone maker's in-app payment system.Advertisement
—DHH (@dhh) July 30, 2020Paul Vogel, the chief financial officer of Spotify — which filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission over Apple's App Store commission rates — said the streaming app has managed to be successful despite Apple's restrictions.
"I think we've done exceptionally well in spite of some restrictions that Apple has put in front of us," Vogel said to CNBC. "The other question is how much better we would have done had we not had some of the restrictions placed against us."Dailey says he's growing concerned that Apple may implement a clampdown similar to the one it imposed on MDM parental control apps in 2019 on apps that rely on location services.Advertisement
Apple has added privacy safeguards in recent iPhone updates designed to prevent apps from unknowingly collecting unnecessary data about a user's location.Its iOS 14 update launching in the fall, for example, will make it possible for users to share their approximate location with an app rather than their precise location. In last year's iOS 13 update, Apple turned permission to allow an app to always track a user's location off by default, meaning iPhone owners will have to intentionally decide to grant an app such permission.Bluetooth tracking accessory maker Tile, however, has voiced concerns that this change in iOS 13 has given Apple an unfair advantage, since that permission is not off by default for Apple's Find My app.Advertisement
"Again, Apple themselves benefit from a deeper level of access to the device and are playing by a separate set of standards than those they lay out for their third party developers," Dailey said via email.
It's unclear precisely what will come of the hearing. At the end of Wednesday's hearing, Rep. David Cicilline, chair of the House antitrust subcommittee, said the committee will publish a report on the investigation's findings and propose solutions.Ben Volach, the cofounder of Blix, which makes an email app called BlueMail, says he just wants fairness. Blix has accused Apple of stealing its technology for its "Sign in with Apple" feature and suppressing its app in App Store search results.Advertisement
"[We want] a true level playing field," Volach said to Business Insider. "Which is not the case at the moment."