Bill Would Require Google, Apple To Allow App 'Sideloading,' Outside Payment Systems

A trio of Senators on Wednesday introduced a bill that could reshape the mobile app marketplace by imposing new restrictions on Apple and Google.

The “Open App Markets Act,” proposed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), states that it aims “to promote competition and reduce gatekeeper power in the app economy, increase choice, improve quality, and reduce costs for consumers.”

The bill contains a host of proposed new rules, including one that would require both companies to allow consumers to sideload apps -- that is, to download them from sources other than the App Store or Play Store.

Apple famously doesn't allow sideloading, arguing that the practice would expose users to security risks.

"Because of the large size of the iPhone user base and the sensitive data stored on their phones -- photos, location data, health and financial information -- allowing sideloading would spur a flood of new investment into attacks on the platform,” Apple said in a report issued in June.

Google allows Android users to sideload apps, but attorneys general who are suing the company over its Play Store policies have accused Google of making sideloading “unnecessarily cumbersome and impractical.”

(Google also faces similar lawsuits by consumers and developers, including Epic Games.)

The proposed law would also prohibit Google and Apple from requiring that their payment platforms be used for in-app purchases.

Epic Games is currently suing Apple over that policy, arguing that Apple monopolizes the iOS app distribution market, and unlawfully forces developers to use its payment processing system.

Epic brought the case last August, after Apple removed the Fortnite game from the iOS app store. Apple did so after Epic began offering gamers the ability to make purchases directly from it, instead of through Apple's platform.

The bill is drawing support from some advocacy groups, including Consumer Reports, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge.

John Bergmayer, legal director at Public Knowledge, stated Wednesday that the measure “ensures fairness to users and developers without forcing compromises on security or privacy.”

But the tech-industry funded group Chamber of Progress argues the bill “would erode the security, trust, and convenience that consumers value in app stores and mobile devices.”

“This bill is a finger in the eye of anyone who bought an iPhone or Android because the phones and their app stores are safe, reliable, and easy to use,” Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich stated Wednesday.

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