The hold of the iPhone maker on the Apple App Store is in question; can make it more similar to Google Play Store

Apple lobbied against the bill, arguing that it would make the iPhone ecosystem more similar to the Google Play Store.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved legislation that, if passed, would require Apple Inc. to allow users to install apps outside of the App Store. The 21-1 bipartisan vote is a strong endorsement of the bill by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn and eight other co-sponsors, but there’s still a long way to go. get a vote in the full Senate.

Apple has lobbied against the bill, arguing it would make the iPhone ecosystem more similar to Android, limiting consumer choice for what it calls a more secure and closed environment.

The bill aims to loosen the duopoly that Apple and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have over the distribution of mobile apps, part of congressional efforts to limit the power of US tech giants.

“Google and Apple own the rails of the app economy, just like the railroads at the turn of the last century,” said Blumenthal, who estimated the value of the app store market at around $100 billion a year. .

The measure, S. 2710, would require Apple to allow users to install apps on their phones and other devices from sources on the web or other app stores, a process called sideloading.

This provision would have the most impact on Apple. Although Google offers its Google Play Store on mobile devices, it does not restrict users from downloading Android apps elsewhere. Sideloading, which Apple says poses security risks for consumers, would allow apps to avoid Apple’s fees, which range from 15% to 30%.

The bill would also force app marketplaces to allow third-party app developers to communicate with customers outside of platforms about cheaper ways to subscribe and alternative ways to pay for services. Last year, Apple said it would allow this as part of a US class action settlement with app developers.

The committee passed an amendment addressing security concerns raised by tech companies that would allow platforms to actively manage their systems to oversee cybersecurity and privacy. The second amendment that was passed requires the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice, and Government Accountability Office to submit an impact report three years after the law is enacted.

Apple and Google urged the panel to reject the bill in separate letters obtained by Bloomberg, both sent to Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley on Wednesday.

Apple CEO Tim Cook personally met with several senators in December, including Klobuchar, Durbin and Grassley, about this bill and other antitrust proposals, according to a person familiar with the meetings. Cook was due to speak with Blackburn on Wednesday ahead of the committee hearing, but the meeting was postponed, according to a Senate aide.

The bill “amounts to Congress trying to artificially pick winners and losers in a highly competitive marketplace,” said Mark Isakowitz, Google’s head of government affairs and public policy.

Companies like Spotify Technology SA, Tile and Match Group Inc. support the changes to the proposal, which they say would make them less dependent on Apple and Google to reach customers. Microsoft also threw its weight behind the bill, according to a person familiar with the company’s position.

Some of the app store practices addressed by Thursday’s bill have also been challenged by Epic Games Inc. in the video game maker’s lawsuit against Apple. The judge in that case found that Apple had engaged in anti-competitive behavior and ordered the iPhone maker to stop blocking developers from directing users to alternative payment methods.

Apple appealed the decision and an appeals court stayed the decision.

The judge in the original Epic case also found that Apple’s dominance in the mobile app market does not violate US antitrust law. Epic is appealing this part of the decision with support from 35 states, civil society groups and Microsoft Corp.

Virginia C. Taylor