It’s Time To Take A Bite Out Of Apple’s Monopoly

Aidan Smith
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By launching a strong antitrust suit that tackles Apple’s offenses on all fronts, the DOJ will take a meaningful step towards ensuring real corporate accountability.

Progressives in Congress and labor leaders agree: America has a monopoly crisis. While monopolistic abuses are pervasive across industries, it’s the dominance of the four Big Tech companies—Meta Platforms (Facebook), Google, Amazon, and Apple—that is unparalleled in scope. In 2020, a House of Representatives report found that these companies, all ubiquitous facets of modern life, have become the “kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”

Since this report was published, historic antitrust lawsuits have been launched against MetaGoogle, and Amazon. After years of anticipation, progressives should cheer for news that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to take antitrust action against Apple as soon as March.

For years, Apple has tried to portray itself as a kinder, gentler Big Tech company. But this undeserved reputation hides the company’s documented anti-consumer, anti-worker behavior. After all, between Apple’s labor recorddisregard for privacy, and ruthless anti-competitive behavior, the iPhone maker fits right at home with the likes of Meta, Google, and Amazon. Alongside Google, Apple has illegally cornered markets ranging from mobile phones to app markets, a duopoly that undermines the very rule of law. With Apple and the rest of Big Tech looking to entrench their dominance in new sectors, including the auto industry, the federal government must take immediate action.

The recent tide towards reinvigorating antitrust enforcement marks a clear victory for the progressive movement’s agenda—and a defeat for corporate titans.

Though the exact details of the upcoming antitrust suit remain unknown, reports suggest it will be nothing less than a blockbuster case. Rather than just honing in on one aspect of Apple’s monopolistic conduct, reports indicate the suit will take an expansive approach to curbing Apple’s harms. Per The New York Times, the DOJ aims to target Apple’s “self-preferencing” behavior, which refers to unfairly leveraging its dominant position to rig markets against competitors. This includes Apple’s illegal privileging of the Apple Watch at competitors’ expenses, its unfairly restrictive iMessage policies, and its alarming activities in the payments sector.

In a 2021 article for Common DreamsRalph Nader lambasted Apple’s “quasi-monopoly,” noting that the tech giant has reaped enormous profits—and made hefty stock buybacks—all while paying little in taxes. Ironically, even as Apple lobbies for beneficial tax breaks, the company is keen as ever on maintaining the infamous “Apple tax”: the large commission fees levied on app developers, who have no choice but to sell their products on the App Store. As noted by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), one of the most prolific left-wing members of Congress, Apple’s “exorbitant fees” unfairly harm small businesses. Unfortunately, the company continues to resist meaningful reforms to these practices, making a federal antitrust suit particularly urgent.

Apple Store
Apple Store. Image provided by Frenz Hub for illustrative purpose

In the United States, it’s long been true that there’s effectively separate legal systems: A lax system for the rich and well-connected and an unforgiving one for the rest of us. Boasting a market cap larger than all-but-six national economies, it’s no surprise that Apple’s routine legal violations have been met with slaps-on-the-wrist in the past with few behavioral remedies. In recent decades, antitrust law has been intentionally defanged by right-wing judicial activists, which has set the stage for the current monopoly crisis. Rather than enforce antitrust laws as they are written, courts have largely given a pass to monopolists under neoliberal “consumer welfare” ideology, provided they meet arbitrary standards for “efficiency.” By launching a strong antitrust suit that tackles Apple’s offenses on all fronts, the DOJ will take a meaningful step towards ensuring real corporate accountability.

As the labor movement makes a triumphant resurgence in the United States, reining in monopolistic corporations will go hand-in-hand with empowering workers. From wage theft in the U.S. to brutal working conditions abroad, it’s clear that Apple’s multi-trillion dollar market cap is built on the backs of exploited workers. Even amid rising scrutiny, Apple labor organizers have sounded the alarm on the company’s continued lack of regard for its workers. It’s no surprise that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, among the largest labor unions in the United States, endorsed antitrust legislation in 2022 aimed at reining in Apple and other Big Tech giants.

The recent tide towards reinvigorating antitrust enforcement marks a clear victory for the progressive movement’s agenda—and a defeat for corporate titans. Last year, the historic U.S. v. Google trial, coupled with the launch of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust suit against Amazon, made clear the way forward for curbing corporate monopolies. Five years after the DOJ began its antitrust investigation into the iPhone maker, it’s clearer than ever that we need to take a bite out of Apple’s monopoly.

 

-The opinion expressed in this post belongs solely to the author.

Author

  • Aidan Smith

    Aidan Smith is a political consultant and commentator. His work focuses on issue areas including federal personnel, competition policy, and foreign policy.

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