Uncle Sam, 15 US states launch antitrust war on Apple

Lawsuit alleges iGiant rips off fans, stifles dev innovation, makes it tough to dump iOS for rivals

The US Department of Justice has filed an antitrust complaint against Apple, accusing the iMaker of stifling innovation and undermining competitors through its App Store guidelines and developer agreements.

The DoJ, joined by 15 states and Washington, DC, filed its case in a New Jersey federal court today. According to the complaint [PDF], Apple has built a moat around its platforms that it uses to maintain a monopoly that ultimately harms consumers by allowing it to charge higher prices without fear users will be chased away.

"Over many years, Apple has repeatedly responded to competitive threats like this one by making it harder or more expensive for its users and developers to leave than by making it more attractive for them to stay," the complaint alleges. 

Apple has been charged with four counts of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act and two state-level antitrust violations in New Jersey and Wisconsin. 

In a press conference announcing the complaint, DoJ officials claimed the Apple case was on the same scale as the Standard Oil and Microsoft monopoly battles, the latter of which prosecutors say helped Apple grow into the commanding position it has.

"When Apple began developing mobile consumer devices, it did so against the backdrop of United States v. Microsoft," the complaint states. "In the absence of the [Microsoft] consent decree …it would have been more difficult for Apple to achieve this success and ultimately launch the iPhone."

In terms of particular claims, the DoJ alleges Apple maintains its monopoly power by doing things like blocking super apps that would ease user dependence on Apple hardware, suppressing mobile cloud streaming services, making it harder for third-party accessories (eg, non-Apple Watch smartwatches) to work with iPhones, limiting the use of third-party digital wallets from accessing functions like tap-to-pay, and otherwise locking down devices to force users to stick with Apple.

One of the most egregious examples that US Attorney General Merrick Garland called out was Apple’s refusal to make messaging between iPhones and Android devices work smoothly, as exemplified by the Beeper Mini affair earlier this year.

"[Apple’s] anticompetitive conduct makes it more difficult for iPhone users to message with users of non-Apple products," Garland said. Instead of doing so by improving its own products, Apple "does this by diminishing the functioning of its own messaging app and third-party apps."

Garland pointed out that this, and other issues raised in the complaint (like forcing iPhone users to share credit card info with Apple to use tap-to-pay) creates security risks for Apple customers.

"Apple has maintained its monopoly not by having a superior product," Garland said, but by being exclusionary.

Apple has yet to respond to questions from The Register for this story. ®

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