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Microsoft Pushing for Antitrust Regulators to Review Unnamed ‘App Stores’

Dina Bass, writing for Bloomberg:*

Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith said it’s time for antitrust regulators in the U.S. and Europe to discuss tactics that app stores use to take advantage of those who want to distribute their software.

Some app stores create a far higher barrier to fair competition and access than Microsoft’s Windows did when it was found guilty of antitrust violations 20 years ago, Smith said Thursday at an event sponsored by Politico. He didn’t specify which app stores he was referring to, but Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google operate popular ones for their devices.

I get why Smith would choose not to mention Apple or Google by name — he doesn’t have to. They don’t merely operate two popular app stores, they operate the only two app stores that matter at all in the U.S. and E.U. Without arguing over the legal definition of monopoly, it speaks to the market share of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store that one can talk about “app stores” in general and everyone knows you can only be talking about those two stores in particular.

“They impose requirements that increasingly say there is only one way to get on to our platform and that is to go through the gate that we ourselves have created,” Smith said. “In some cases they create a very high price per toll — in some cases 30% of your revenue has to go to the toll keeper.”

I get the strong sense — reading between the lines of Smith’s carefully measured opening public salvo here, and listening to private sources behind the scenes — that this is not just an offhand remark but a sign that Microsoft is strategically positioning itself to push for antitrust regulation here. They have much to gain and nothing to lose — and they have experience, to say the least, with antitrust regulators.

Just mind-boggling on a 25-year time scale that Microsoft and Apple are now on these sides of a serious antitrust controversy. (And Google, of course, didn’t even exist when Microsoft was going through the Windows antitrust battle.)

* You know.

Thursday, 18 June 2020