Proposed U.S. Antitrust Legislation Would Require Preinstalled Apps to Be Removable

Rebecca Kern, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. would be prohibited from pre-installing its own apps on Apple devices under antitrust reform legislation introduced last week, said Democratic Representative David Cicilline, who is leading a push to pass new regulations for U.S. technology companies.

Cicilline told reporters Wednesday that a proposal prohibiting tech platforms from giving an advantage to their own products over those of competitors would mean Apple can’t ship devices with pre-installed apps on its iOS operating platform.

“It would be equally easy to download the other five apps as the Apple one so they’re not using their market dominance to favor their own products and services,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.

Cicilline equivocated on a question of whether this would also apply to Microsoft’s platforms. Given that it fulfills the prerequisites of active user count and market capitalization, it would also likely be prohibited from including preinstalled apps.

I would love to know what Cicilline believes an empty shell of an operating system looks like. Can a platform owner include a web browser so that it is possible to search for applications? Can it include a terminal emulator or command line applications, of which there are many competing types? Would preinstalling curl but not wget be a problem since they have some overlapping functionality? Can a platform owner include specific drivers for components or is that verboten? Since Apple allows alternative software keyboards, would defaulting to its own violate the law? This may all sound snarky but I am genuinely wondering what an operating system without any preinstalled apps looks like.

And what is the goal here? I agree in theory with limiting a platform owner’s ability to use that unique power and privilege to stifle competition. But if a user has to configure everything about their system manually, well that just sounds horrible. It is why no year has been the year of Linux on the desktop: most people just want the tool to work with as little configuration and maintenance as possible. The question for regulators is how they can improve competition and define platform owners’ responsibilities with a user-friendly expectation.

Update: After this article was published, Rich Luchette, a senior adviser to Cicilline, tweeted a clarification:

Just to correct the record, this is not what Cicilline said. iPhones can be shipped with pre-installed apps, but Apple could not stop someone from un-installing or changing their default settings under the non-discrimination bill.

In another example of Bloomberg’s stellar reporting, Kern has updated this article to reflect this understanding. However, in Benedict Evans’ analysis, the actual text of the bill more closely reflects the initial report. Excellent work all around.