Apple and Google “hold data hostage” from small apps and force competitors to pay high commissions, stifling their ability to compete, a number of companies said in a US Senate hearing on Wednesday.
The hearing before the Senate antitrust committee offered a rare opportunity for smaller competitors – including Spotify, Tile and Match – to air their grievances against the tech behemoths before lawmakers. Representatives for the companies spoke about their experiences within Google and Apple’s app stores, where they claim to be subjected to high fees and copycat behavior.
The hearing came just a day after Apple introduced AirTags, a device that users can attach to items and track using an iPhone’s “Find My” software. AirTags has largely been seen as a direct copy of Samsung’s SmartTag and Tile Bluetooth trackers, which were founded 10 years ago.
Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic senator and the chair of the antitrust subcommittee, said Apple and Google have used their power to “exclude or suppress apps that compete with their own products” and “charge excessive fees that affect competition”.
“The only way apps can get to consumers is through one of these two platforms, which are owned by just two companies,” she said. “The best thing to do here would be to admit that we have a huge monopoly problem across the board, and put in some stiffer rules and standards to address it.”
The lawmaker, who has introduced sweeping new antitrust legislation, also repeatedly noted that Apple does not allow companies in its app stores to tell consumers where to make purchases off of the app.
Apple said its AirTags were an outgrowth of its “FindMy” app, which is used for locating lost Apple devices and to share user locations and was introduced in 2010, before Tile’s founding. Apple last month opened its operating system up to alternative item trackers and said that Chipolo, a startup competing with Tile and AirTags, is using the system.
Tile’s general counsel, Kirsten Daru, testified Apple’s FindMy program is installed by default on Apple phones and cannot be deleted.
“Apple has once again exploited its market power and dominance to condition our customers’ access to data on effectively breaking our user experience and directing our users to FindMy,” she said.
Representatives from other companies including Spotify and Match, which owns the app Tinder, complained the requirement to share up to 30% of the in-app revenue and strict inclusion rules set by Apple and Google amount to anticompetitive behavior.
Apple claims the revenue-sharing requirements it imposes are for safety purposes, and made similar arguments as to why non-app store apps are banned from iPhones.
But when asked by Senator Josh Hawley, Apple’s chief compliance officer, Kyle Andeer, would not commit to spending all of the mandatory fees on security.
The arguments from Apple were “frankly offensive,” said Evan Greer, the director of digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, adding that consumers should be able to install whatever software they want on to their devices.
“Apple’s stranglehold over what software can run on iPhones creates a choke point that governments have used to crack down on political dissent, target marginalized people like LGBTQ folks, and worse,” Greer said. “App store monopolies aren’t just a competition issue, they’re a human rights issue.”