After several years of antitrust disputes and investigations across multiple sectors and nations, things are looking up for Apple in the U.S., where political factors may mean the company escapes further regulation for this year at least.
CNBC reports that Apple, along with fellow tech giants Amazon and Google, is likely to get a “reprieve” because Republican leadership is losing its appetite for the fight to impose strict antitrust regulations. This is partly based on comments from Ken Buck (R-CO), a long-time critic of the big tech companies who was passed over for the position as chair of the Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. “I don’t think Speaker McCarthy, Chairman Jordan or Chairman Massie are advocates for the antitrust, pro-competition solution to the Big Tech problem,” he said in an interview, adding that it would be a “fair conclusion to draw” that his bipartisan work co-sponsoring antitrust bills with the Democrats (such as the Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act last May) was what cost him the chairmanship.
Jim Jordan (R-OH), meanwhile, suggested in a separate interview that the GOP is more interested in restructuring the subcommittee to limit the power of the Biden administration than in increasing its powers of oversight. “We’re thinking … that we don’t want to give any more power to those agencies,” he said.
Buck appeared pessimistic about his ability to limit the powers of the tech giants without the subcommittee chairmanship; when asked for his plans, he said: “That’s a great question and if you have any answers to that I would appreciate knowing.” He did indicate that he intends to introduce antitrust bills on the House side, just as similar bills will be introduced in the Senate, but it seems unlikely that these bills will gain the momentum needed to pass in 2023, given the broader lack of interest among the GOP.
This is all good news for Apple, but the company isn’t out of the woods just yet. Interest in alleged anti-competitive behavior is not confined to the U.S. Since 2020 the company has been investigated for such matters in Spain, Italy, Russia, France, and the U.K., and by the EU. As a result, iOS 17 is expected to include the ability to install third-party app stores outside the U.S.
CNBC notes that Republicans have not entirely lost interest in pursuing the tech giants for perceived misbehavior. Rather, it’s just that this is now largely confined to the alleged censorship of conservative voices on tech platforms, a long-running obsession of the party. Rep. Jordan, the site reports, has subpoenaed the CEOs of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft in a bid to “understand how and to what extent the Executive Branch coerced and colluded with companies and other intermediaries to censor speech.”
It’s notable that when Tim Cook and other CEOs appeared before the US House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee back in 2020, politicians from the two parties did not pull together, with Republicans focusing on censorship and Democrats on disinformation. Consequently, Apple largely escaped unscathed amid the confusion.