on deceptive apps and practices: unmasking the ACT App (le) association | IP Kidon

On July 1, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), under the leadership of incoming President Lina Khan, held the first Commission meeting in a series of announced monthly meetings. It was interesting to look, and I am optimistic that President Khan, an accomplished Columbia University law professor who was one of the principal authors of last year’s House report on Competition in digital markets, really understands the Big Tech market shenanigans. That’s why what happened towards the end of the meeting surprised me.

The meeting ad said the “Commission will invite members of the public to share their comments on the work of the Commission… and bring relevant issues to the attention of the Commission”. And indeed, the guest speakers were mostly small players, such as small restaurateurs, independent pharmacists, family grocers, family farmers, the computer repair vendors that electronics companies are trying to kill, etc. Other speakers spoke on behalf of associations that oppose Big Tech practices, Athena, Free press, and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. However, it was surprising to see a speaker from the ACT App Association chosen to speak, supposedly on behalf of small business interests.

The ACT App Association should really be called the ACT Apple Association. It was based in 1998 by Microsoft as a lobby arm using smaller players as a front to support its defense against antitrust charges on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the years, it has remained a vehicle for Big Tech interests. While hard to find (and strategically placed outside of the member’s page), if you scroll all the way to the bottom this page you see that the main sponsors of the association ACT App (le) are Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Verizon and AT&T (others recent sponsors have included Facebook, Oracle and eBay).

I wrote last year about this masquerade of “hiding behind a supposed association of applications”. Since then, we’ve seen real app developers fight for their lives in the Epic Games vs. Apple litigation. However, the ACT App Association filed an amicus brief in support of … Apple (!), and its Blog also sided with Apple. So why is an “app association” opposed to the interests of app developers?

As Florian Müller recently explained:

“The only organization right now that definitely represents the interests of developers is the Coalition for Application Fairness. … Unfortunately, there are a few other organizations claim to represent app developers, but in reality they are lobbying for large companies:

  • ACT | Combining applications says it “enjoys the backing of the best companies in the mobile economy.” The first logo displayed by the webpage (near the bottom of the page I’m linked to) is Apple’s. . . .
  • the Developer Alliance (formerly known as the “App Developer Alliance”) is actually a facade of Google “

Hope the FTC understands why the association’s small app developers are supposed to be supporting Apple in the Epic vs. Apple disputes, why these app developers are supposed to care so much about standards critical patents (although app developers are never required to take SEP licenses) 22-employee trade association. The answer is easy. This is because the ACT App Association (the) represents Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Verizon and AT&T, and not the app developers.

The Association’s assertion at last week’s hearing that it represents “thousands of small software application development companies … located in every state in the United States” is also misleading. Membership of the Association page lists around thirty entities. Ten of them are surprisingly listed European entities with no websites. Others include venture capital company, a marketing company, a Design company, and at least one entity that appears to be out of business. It is not clear how the dozen remaining entities amount to “thousands of small [app developers] … Located in all US states.

In short, this group is Big Tech masquerading as a small business. This is nothing like the small businesses and legitimate public interest organizations that spoke at the town hall. For the ACT App (le) association, pretending to be an association of little guys is misleading at best. Instead of inviting them to speak up, perhaps the FTC’s Consumer Protection Office should investigate them and their sponsors for this false statement.

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