App marketplaces are central to how Americans use their smartphones and gaming systems. They help students discover the best note-taking app for their classes, parents find virtual coloring books to keep their kids occupied and companies like stores, banks and hospital systems reach their customers to offer greater convenience for their services via apps.
But Democrat senators like Richard Blumenthal and Amy Klobuchar, and even Republican Marsha Blackburn, are pushing a bill to fundamentally disrupt the app stores Americans have come to trust.
The sponsors of S. 2710, the Open App Markets Act (OAMA), are hoping to use the congressional Lame Duck period as a last-ditch effort to push through their misguided legislation. OAMA allegedly gives consumers more choice in which app store they could use, but in reality, it targets leading American tech companies and creates a less accessible, less enjoyable experience for users online.
Here’s 10 reasons why Members of Congress should oppose OAMA:
1. It leaves Americans’ data vulnerable to privacy and security concerns.
OAMA mandates platforms permit third-party developers to use their own payment systems. It also requires them to allow “sideloading,” which enables users to download third-party apps and app stores outside of the marketplace. But both of these provisions come with a significant security risk for users. Bad actors can take advantage of sideloading and third-party payment systems to infect devices with malware and steal consumer data.
OAMA would also require companies to publicly release their security practices, giving cyber criminals the tools to get around security firewalls. This will damage all of our safety and privacy online, especially with our most personal data, like medical and financial information.
2. It will stifle the American economy.
The Open App Markets Act would undoubtedly lead to higher prices, more headaches and increased security risks to the hundreds of millions of Americans that use app stores. By narrowly targeting a couple of innovative, American companies, OAMA will force consumers to face online app marketplaces filled with questionable and even dangerous app offerings, disrupting the digital economy for years to come.
3. It amounts to the government picking winners and losers in the market…
OAMA fundamentally ignores good economic principles, including consumer choice and straightforward business decision making. Consumers are not the only beneficiaries of strong, stable app markets; other businesses benefit as well. Netflix, Spotify, Peloton, Epic Games and others all offer their apps in these marketplaces to build their user base.
Some apps sell subscriptions for their premium features on the app marketplace, and they benefit from the trusted, well-curated stores on which they can rely. Consumers appreciate this, too, as they can process their subscription payments through one platform. But OAMA would ban this practice entirely by preventing app stores from using their own payment processes for app purchases.
As mentioned above, OAMA also would mandate sideloading. However, sideloading can be fraught with security concerns because it encourages consumers to use unverified apps. And consumers already have the option to decide between flexibility and security for their app needs. A level of sideloading exists in the market now: Google’s Play Store allows for a particular, more secure, version of sideloading, while Apple’s App Store does not allow sideloading at all.
The reality is that users interact with many app marketplaces that have varying levels of security options, and they are able to pick different ones for different needs or interests—allowing free consumer choice, which OAMA patently ignores.
4. …by narrowly targeting two companies…
Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store are two of the largest app marketplaces, with over 5 million unique, mostly free apps offered between the two. OAMA was written to directly target both of these companies as they both have over 50 million U.S. users. But there are far more than two app stores in the entire market: Amazon, the Opera web browser, the Steam gaming platform and Microsoft’s Xbox gaming system all have app stores, too.
Even so, American consumers have come to know and trust these two targeted companies as their reliability and revenue have enabled them to curate app downloads within a safe marketplace. Apple and Google stringently evaluate the apps available in their stores to ensure they don’t contain spam, malware or other malicious content that may harm users’ devices.
5. …but ignoring others.
Take Microsoft’s Xbox app store, which is a closed system. With its potential $69 billion acquisition of Activision, a video game publisher, Microsoft will further tie games and game developers exclusively to its own app store ecosystem. Microsoft is one of the biggest tech companies, yet it is exempt from this bill entirely.
OAMA also ignores the freedoms companies already have to participate in the app marketplace. They aren’t locked into the Apple App Store or Google Play Store ecosystem to make money from their users. Netflix, Spotify, Peloton, Epic Games and others can all push customers to sign up for paid accounts on their own websites, instead of through app marketplaces, if they so desire. Netflix has already done this: it does not allow customers to sign up for an account at all via app stores. Users must sign up and pay through Netflix’s own browser site.
6. It will create more headaches for American users online.
Leading tech platforms prioritize keeping their users safe from spam and scams on their sites. Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari browsers give users warnings if the site they’re about to visit seems unsafe. Those companies’ app stores have similar features, and they ban apps from their stores which are clearly looking to scam users.
Take the infamous “I Am Rich” app. This $999.99 app did quite literally nothing but sit on users’ phones. Apple swiftly removed this bogus app from its marketplace as it served no other purpose than to scam users out of their cash.
OAMA would undo the curation work that removes fraudulent apps—and protects users—from marketplaces. Companies would be required to accept virtually any app onto the store even if there’s no demand for it, or even worse, it outright tries to swindle users.
7. Our children may be exposed to malicious actors hoping to exploit them.
Leading app marketplaces currently ban or moderate pornographic and overly violent apps. But the provision which allows sideloading in OAMA would force Apple’s App Store and other app marketplaces to host content that may be obscene or violate their terms of service. Malicious actors may hope to exploit children by communicating with them via unsecure chat apps and, in the worst cases, soliciting or exposing kids to explicit material. OAMA would force covered platforms to drop their moderation standards for their app stores, flooding the marketplace with explicit or violent apps which would be easily accessible by kids online.
8. It hasn’t had a hearing in Congress.
Though OAMA saw a markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, it hasn’t yet gone to the full Senate for a hearing. Scrutiny on the full Senate floor will surely reveal the unintended consequences of this misguided antitrust legislation, like that of S.2992, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA). In fact, OAMA and AICOA’s sponsor, Sen. Klobuchar, has pushed her colleagues to ignore precedent to advance her pet antitrust projects by rushing them to markup, without giving her Senate colleagues the opportunity to fully scrutinize this troublesome legislation.
9. Americans don’t support its provisions….
A June survey by Politico and Morning Consult found that none of the main measures in OAMA have a majority of Americans’ support. In fact, none reached even one-third of Americans’ support. Further, Americans don’t think Congress should be focusing on tech sector regulation; a mere 2% said it should be a top priority. All the more reason Klobuchar and her fellow progressives’ attempts at sweeping antitrust legislation–especially passed during Lame Duck–are out of step with Americans’ values and legislative needs.
10. …Nor do other Members of Congress–even Democrats!
Despite not having a hearing or thorough examination, Klobuchar’s colleagues are still uncomfortable with passing OAMA. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) called out some key concerns with it, particularly the security vulnerabilities. He stated, “We are facing a serious inflection point at the interaction of cybersecurity and national security. And I don’t think we should understate the harm of foreign and bad faith domestic actors to try and gain access to Americans’ phones and computers under the guise of open development.”
During its markup in February, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla also raised concerns about OAMA, with Padilla saying, “We may be unintentionally providing an avenue for propagators of hate speech that dispute their placement within app stores.”
As Congress moves to close Lame Duck legislating, they should throw out progressive pet projects like OAMA, which harm American cybersecurity, innovation and economic health.