How the Open App Markets Act wants to remake app stores

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Open App Markets Act, one of legislators’ latest attempts to limit big tech companies’ power — a big step toward opening up iOS and Android’s app stores. But the proposal has raised questions about moderation and security alongside praise from anti-monopoly watchdogs, mirroring a tech world debate about the perks and harms of walled gardens.

The bill is aimed at increasing competition in mobile computing, a field where plenty of people agree a few companies have too much power. But as a series of proposed amendments demonstrated, though, not everyone agrees where that power should stop.

What is the Open App Markets Act?

You can read the Open App Markets Act or S. 2710 for yourself — unlike some omnibus tech reform bills, it’s not that long. But basically, it says companies that operate app stores with more than 50 million US users shouldn’t engage in certain potentially anti-competitive behaviors. That includes:

  • Requiring developers to use the company’s own in-app payment processor as a condition of using the store
  • Penalizing a developer for offering better prices on another app store
  • Restricting developers from directly contacting customers with business offers
  • Using private analytics data from third-party apps to build its own competitors
  • “Unreasonably” preferencing its own apps in search results

If a company that owns an app store also controls the underlying operating system, it also has to make it easy for users to perform the following tasks:

  • Install third-party apps without using the App Store
  • Choose third-party apps and app stores as system defaults
  • Uninstall or hide preinstalled apps

Companies that break the rules could be subject to antitrust enforcement from the Federal Trade Commission, the Attorney General, and state attorneys general, as well as civil lawsuits from “any developer” who was harmed by the banned conduct.

Notably, the bill doesn’t explicitly cover app stores on every device. It defines the term as a “publicly available website, software application, or other electronic service” on “a computer, a mobile device, or any other general purpose computing device.” That…