Top antitrust U.S. senator to examine Apple's AirTag announcement

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, the top Senate Democrat on antitrust issues, said Apple's announcement that it would introduce the AirTag tracker device was "timely" as it was the kind of conduct that her panel planned to discuss at a hearing on Wednesday.

Apple Inc announced on Tuesday that it would begin selling AirTags, which can be attached to items like car keys to help users find them when they are lost. The move puts Apple in direct competition with Tile, which has sold a similar tracking device for more than a decade.

Apple's chief compliance officer, Kyle Andeer, will testify at the hearing as well as Kirsten Daru, general counsel for Tile.

"It's timely given that this is the type of conduct that we'll be talking about at the hearing," Klobuchar said, adding that criticisms of Apple and Google's <GOOGL.O> app stores had not received the scrutiny that they deserved. "There had been a bit less focus on this than I think there needed to be."

Apple said its AirTags were an outgrowth of its "FindMy" app, which is used for locating lost Apple devices and to share user locations and was introduced in 2010, before Tile's founding. Apple last month opened its operating system up to third-party item trackers and said that Chipolo, a startup that competes with both Tile and Apple's new AirTags, is using the system.

"We have always embraced competition as the best way to drive great experiences for our customers, and we have worked hard to build a platform in iOS that enables third-party developers to thrive," Apple said in a statement.

But Tile's Daru plans to testify that Apple's FindMy program is not a pro-competitive fix for Tile's concerns because it would force Tile to ditch its own app for iPhone users.

"The FindMy Program holds critical location data hostage to coerce developers like Tile to abandon our apps and networks. It deprives customers of choice and breaks our interoperability with Android," Daru planned to say.

Others on the witness list are Google Government Affairs Senior Director Wilson White, Spotify <SPOT.N> Chief Legal Officer Horacio Gutierrez and Match Group <MTCH.O> Chief Legal Officer Jared Sine.

App makers like music streaming service Spotify and dating service firm Match, which owns the Tinder app, have long complained that mandatory revenue sharing and strict inclusion rules set by Apple's App Store for iPhones and iPads, along with Google's Play store for Android devices, amount to anticompetitive behavior.

In his testimony, Match's Sine is expected to argue that Google and Apple both exact an onerous 30% of any digital transaction, raising prices for consumers.

Match pays nearly $500 million in fees to the app store annually, the company's single largest expense, Sine plans to say. Sine also plays to testify that Apple forced T-Mobile to end a promotion it had planned to offer discount codes to Tinder customers in 2019 because Apple decided the promotion broke its rules about telling customers about how to pay for apps outside of Apple's proprietary payment systems.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Stephen Nellis and Paresh Dave; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

04/21/2021 17:38

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