Apple’s funding lobby group claims to represent app developers

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Washington DC Technology Industry Group The association of applications Boldly defines itself as “the leading industry voice on the app economy”, and claims that it represents more than 5,000 app makers and connected device companies in 27 countries around the world. What the App Association’s website doesn’t say is that more than half of its estimated $9 million sponsorship revenue in 2020 came from a single company –Apple.

This is according a recent Bloomberg article, which cites sources detailing the group’s deep financial relationship with Apple. These funds, in turn, according to Bloomberg, shape the group’s influential political priorities from the shadows. Tech transparency groups speaking with Gizmodo claimed that the App Association’s (which goes by the moniker ACT) relationship with Apple illustrates a broader trend of Big Tech surreptitiously infecting trade group politics with an organization. categorizing ACT as an “astroturf lobby group”.

Responding to requests for comment from Gizmodo, ACT clarified that Apple is a sponsor and not a member of the organization, but then confirmed that the smartphone maker nonetheless contributed more than 50% of ACT’s sponsorship revenue. in 2020. Other major sponsors listed on ACT’s website include Verizon, Intel, AT&T and Verisign. This figure of 50% leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Although ACT did not provide a specific dollar amount for Apple’s contribution, sources speaking with Bloomberg claimed that the total percentage coming from Apple’s moneybags is well over 50%.

Speaking to Bloomberg, ACT executives strongly rejected accusations that they are essentially acting as a front for Apple’s lobbying efforts. The executives said they weren’t directly following Apple’s guidelines on policy stances, but will consider the views of their main backer. Instead, ACT suggests that their policy prescriptions might overlap with Apple’s interests on some issues.

Earlier this month, ACT released its main legislative priorities for the remainder of that term of Congress. These priority areas include “broadband”, “telehealth and digital health coverage”, “cryptocurrency”, “privacy”, “fiscal policy”, “development and education of the labour” and “intellectual property”. Given Apple’s immense size and scale, just about every one of these issues potentially affects its business.

ACT Rejects Claims It’s a ‘Big Tech Front Group’

Tech transparency groups that speak with Gizmodo don’t buy ACT’s separation claims and have doubled down on their skepticism of its relationship with Apple.

“Like Google, Facebook and Amazon, Apple has been caught in the act of covering up their connection to another astroturf lobby group,” Tech Oversight project executive director Sacha Haworth told Gizmodo. “Apple is trying to keep its profile public, but they’re playing just as dirty as their Big Tech co-conspirators.”

ACT has sided with Apple on many major policy prescriptions in recent years, but perhaps the most significant of these came on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling in 2019. decision in Apple V. Pepper. In a 5-4 decision, the court sided with Apple and in favor of developers who alleged Apple was monopolizing the iPhone app market. In a nutshell, the confirmed developers claim that app market consumers are “direct buyers,” meaning they have the right to sue Apple for price increases or other disputes covered by antitrust laws.

ACT President Morgan Reed insists expressed himself against the decision and said the ACT were “extremely disappointed” with the outcome. “This decision and its categorization of developers as ‘vendors’ or ‘manufacturers’ of platforms sets a troubling precedent,” Reed wrote at the time.

“ACT, like the Developer’s Alliance and the Connected Commerce Council, is simply the latest organization exposed as a Big Tech front group,” Krista Brown, senior policy analyst at the US Economic Freedoms Project, told Gizmodo. “He has taken a number of positions that disadvantage the developers he claims to speak for, but align well with Apple’s agenda.”

ACT, according to Brown, has taken many positions over the years that “disadvantage[s] developers he purports to speak for,” while inevitably aligning with Apple’s agenda.

In a statement sent to Gizmodo ACT’s senior director of global communications, Karen Groppe, said the organization saw an increase in sponsorship revenue in 2020 alongside its efforts to advance initiatives on privacy, broadband and others aimed at helping its members “navigate the early stages of the pandemic.

“When it comes to the agenda, our members drive the policy and legislative agenda of the organization,” Groppe said. “It’s been happening since 1998.”

Groppe reiterated ACT’s comments regarding Apple’s sponsorship donations refer to 2020 and said the organization would not comment on more recent financial data until the IRS releases its tax returns.

Apple’s feud with developers

Image from article titled Apple Quietly Funds 'Astroturf Lobby Group' Claiming to Represent App Developers

Photo: Krill Kudryavtsev (Getty Images)

Apple plays a large and increasingly complicated role in the mobile app economy. The App Store, along with the Google Play Store, are the two most important ways for app makers to deliver their services to users. In exchange for this service, Apple charges a fee, or what some would call a “tax” of somewhere between 15-30% depending on application. This fee has come under scrutiny from app developers like Epic, Spotify and others who claim it’s unfair. Regulators in South Korea even introduced legislation preventing major platform holders like Apple and Google from forcing developers to use their own in-app purchases, which many developers around the world scoffed at. Apple has repeatedly defended its App Store policies, in Congress and elsewhere, as necessary to maintain security and quality control on the platform.

Antitrust advocates like Bruce Schneier, a member of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, reject Apple’s argument.

“Security is a giant red herring,” Schneier said in a meeting with Bloomberg. “It will scare a lot of people. The goal is to protect the monopoly.

Either way, the fact that Apple regularly finds itself at odds with developers over its policies makes it all the more complicated for ACT, the self-proclaimed “industry leading voice” on the mobile economy, to take undue influence from one of the industry’s top gatekeepers.

Apple did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

Big Tech’s increasingly creative approach to lobbying

Apple isn’t the only tech giant lurking in the shadows of lobbying.

The Tech Oversight Project cites many small industry organizations with notable ties to large tech companies in its “Big Tech Wikicalling on groups like the Connected Commerce Council and the Download Fairness Coalition, among others. One such group, the American Edge Project, which bills itself as a grassroots bipartisan nonprofit, was recently revealed to have received a $4 million donation of Meta allegedly in exchange for vigorous opposition to antitrust reforms, according to a report of the Technology Transparency Project. The report claims that Mets may have funded American Edge and even been its founder.

Big Tech’s creative — or underhanded depending on your perspective — approach to lobbying is part of an all-out political spending spree. Since 2021, Bloomberg estimates Apple, Amazon, Google and Meta together spent $95 million on lobbying, much of it reportedly spent on efforts to crush impending antitrust legislation into a formless mush. Apple, for its part, would have spent a company record $2.5 million in lobbying in the second quarter of 2022. This may not seem absurdly high, but it should be noted that the figure represents an increase of almost 100% compared to the amount spent in the same period of the year former.

Haworth of the Tech Oversight Project, whose organization advocates for tougher antitrust laws, told Gizmodo that Apple’s previously unknown ties to ACT are all the more reason to pressure lawmakers to quit. they advance. a vote on legislation that risks being buried under other Democratic priorities.

“If we don’t get these tech monopolies under control, they will continue to cripple competition and bleed small businesses and start-ups dry,” Haworth said.

Brown of the AELP also said that Apple’s ACT connections reveal broader issues plaguing the industry and urged lawmakers to focus on Big Tech alleged financial interference.

“It’s a clear example of how big tech money is driving a lot of the narrative in Washington,” Brown said. “It’s a serious problem, and one lawmakers and enforcement officials would be well advised to keep in mind when considering efforts to limit the power of Big Tech.”


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