In recent years, big tech companies have become an important part of American life. With that increased visibility has come more scrutiny than perhaps at any point in history. With that expanded role has come a slew of grievances – both real and imagined – about the way they run their businesses. However, efforts to dictate best practices by government central planners often cause more harm than good. This is especially true of one of the latest anti-tech proposals, which would threaten user security on their smart phones.
Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act.” This bill, introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) would make it far easier to bring antitrust lawsuits against companies that preference their own operating systems, marketplaces, and products. This would cause scores of frivolous lawsuits and government harassment campaigns.
However, another side effect would be to threaten the security of popular operating systems. The bill would prevent companies like Apple and Google from barring third-party businesses from interoperating with their own software. For example, Apple currently has security protocols in place to prevent potentially malicious developers from gaining access to their App Store. Under this legislation, those protocols would be designated as “anti-competitive behavior” by the government.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has noted that allowing side loading of products not vetted by Apple would “destroy the security of the iPhone and a lot of the privacy initiatives that we’ve built into the App Store.” This is because Apple sets up reasonable standards to list on the App Store so customers can be confident their downloads are safe and that the iOS operating system is secure from malicious actors.
Apple also requires apps to submit to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) policy, which gives users final say over whether or not app developers can track them across other platforms and applications. However, if downloads are allowed outside the App Store, Apple cannot guarantee this measure of privacy for its users. The legislation in question would forcibly jailbreak every smart phone in the United States.
Even Google – whose Android marketplace is less of a closed system than Apple’s iOS and App Store – is vehemently opposed to such measures. They note that it would prevent them from integrating security features into their services and prevent future developments as well. Where side loading is easier to accomplish on Android devices, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act goes further to limit even the most basic security measures.
That Apple and Google devices operate differently when it comes to permitting side loading on their devices illustrates a key point. Consumers are not being deprived of options in this space. If they want a closed marketplace, they have iOS at their disposal. If they want something secure, but relatively more open, they can opt for Android. The government, on the other hand, wants to ensure all devices are forcibly turned into a digital Wild West, where any developer can access any device at any time.
The sponsors of this bill make no effort to claim their legislation would help consumers. In fact, a staffer for the bill’s cosponsors, Sen. Grassley, admitted, “If we make carveouts for all the pro-consumer features, then the bill will be useless.”
The market has spoken, is speaking, and is doing so quite clearly. Android and iOS were not the only choices Americans had when they came to market. Systems developed by Blackberry and Microsoft used to hold significant chunks of smart device market. Users voted with their pocketbooks and Apple and Google rose to the top. Consumer preferences are not a problem in need of fixing.
On the contrary, this bill is about serving the interests of companies who want access to the product of other companies’ innovation without having to obey the simple guidelines set out by said companies. They want access to the App Store without taking the time to implement basic security measures. They want to prevent Google from defaulting to Google searches on its own devices, ignoring the fact “Google” is often the most-searched word on other search engines. Consumers’ preferences are clear, and so is the cronyism going on behind current antitrust efforts.
Unfortunately, the contempt some legislators have for big tech companies have blinded them to this reality. Companies like Apple and Google are doing things a certain way because they want to provide the best service for their consumers, which in turn has led to most of America choosing to buy their products. Forcing open a backdoor would diminish this quality and create security risks for the personal data of most Americans.