Apple Tries to Get Ahead of Antitrust Criticism

(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. likes to do the right thing while it can still take credit. Other tech companies should learn from its example.

Over the years, Apple has built a reputation for valuing user privacy more than other tech giants. It’s been a happy byproduct of the company’s business model, which relies on selling phones, not targeted advertisements. Apple writes its own operating system and maintains tight control over what software people can download.

Looking back, it was smart for Apple to take on privacy before companies realized they were going to get forced to do so. Now that it's a hot-button issue, Apple is even running a national advertising campaign in the U.S. trumpeting its philosophy with the tagline, “Privacy. That’s iPhone.” Apple’s history lends credibility to these claims.

It probably even helps that the company has had the chance to face real heat for its pro-privacy stance. The Justice Department has fiercely criticized Apple for refusing to unlock phones for investigators, something Apple won't do because it began encrypting the devices several years ago.

Compare that to Facebook Inc., which ran its own ad about privacy during the NBA Playoffs in 2018. The company basically asked for forgiveness for its past failures and said, “Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy.”

But once you’ve reached the point where you’re apologizing to your critics, your motives are going to seem suspect. When Facebook began working to encrypt its messaging services, for instance, the company said it was looking to protect users’ privacy. But skeptics—myself included—wondered whether it was more of a ploy to avoid having to wrangle moderating private messages.

Now it seems like Apple is trying to get out in front of criticism on antitrust, too. My colleague Mark Gurman reported Thursday that Apple is considering allowing users to use third-party web browsers and email applications as the default options on their Apple devices. That could mean your iPhone could open Google Chrome any time you click a link instead of forcing you to open Safari, or Spotify could work more seamlessly with Siri and other iPhone features.

This really matters to some people. One person tweeted, “sometimes i feel my entire passion for antitrust is around just wanting spotify as my siri default.”

It may also matter to regulators. The company’s restrictions on third-party apps have been a rallying cry for the company’s critics, and loosening its grip could preempt governmental action. The European Union is already forcing Alphabet Inc.’s Google to provide alternative search engines in Android.

Apple is currently under pressure from the Justice Department, but it hasn’t been the focus of the current surge in antitrust activity in the way Facebook and Google have been. It’s a savvy move to react to the shifting landscape before things change. Apple could end up looking like the good guy. And that’s good marketing.

If you read one thing

Morgan Stanley buys customers for $13 billion. That's how much the bank shelled out for ETrade Financial Corp. The deal portends the end of the era of independent online brokers. Wall Street has been chasing mainstream customers. Goldman Sachs has the Apple card and Marcus. Now Morgan Stanley has Etrade. What will become of Robinhood?

And here’s what you need to know in global technology news

Trump ads will take over YouTube's homepage for the U.S. presidential election. The campaign secured one of the most high-profile spots on the internet for the crucial days ahead of and on Election Day.

Hulu and Roku are overrun with political ads. And they aren't required to tell you much about how is buying them.

Facebook is bending over backwards to keep conservatives happy. The Washington Post reports that Facebook executive Joel Kaplan resisted removing propaganda pages because they "disproportionately affect conservatives."

Google pulls nearly 600 Android apps. Google kicked Chinese developer Cheetah Mobile from its app store and ad networks.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Brustein at jbrustein@bloomberg.net, Mark Milian

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