Monday, September 19, 2022

Vast majority of ACT | The App Association's funding comes from Apple, former employees tell Bloomberg: astroturfing against app developers' interests

In the final scene of the Eraser movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character--an officer in the witness protection program--tells the passengers of car, seconds before a train crashes through it:
"You've just been erased."

Today's message to ACT | The App(le) Association--one of the worst enemies of the app developer community--sounds pretty similar:
"You've just been exposed."

Bloomberg just published a masterpiece that combines investigative journalism with great analysis based on a profound understanding of industry issues: Apple Flexes Muscle as Quiet Power Behind App Group

I don't want to exhaust my fair use rights to quote from the article, as I'd rather encourage you all to read the original piece, so let me just mention two simple facts it reveals:

  1. ACT | The App Association itself conceded that more than half of the organization's multi-million-dollar budget comes from Apple.

  2. Four former ACT | The App(le) Association employees spoke with Bloomberg on condition of anonymity and said the percentage is much higher (than "more than 50%"), with Apple paying a "dominant behind-the-scenes role shaping the group's policy positions."

What more do I have to say? This is astroturfing.

These revelations come as no surprise at all. I'm just one of various people dealing with App Store and standard-essential patent issues, and it was transparent that no genuine app developer organization would take positions that exclusively benefit Apple and harm us, the real developers.

The question of what it tells us about Apple's business ethics to engage in this is very relevant, but Apple is not going to answer it. We'll see whether Apple will now defund ACT. Certainly, ACT's other sponsors should ask themselves the same question. Now, finally, it's time to defund ACT.

In yesterday's post--Biden Administration will support Epic Games at October 21 Ninth Circuit hearing--and may soon bring its own antitrust lawsuit against Apple--I noted that "Apple is supported only by its own astroturfers and by parties whose own treatment of app developers and content creators is controversial." The Bloomberg story also mentions ACT's amicus curiae brief in support of Apple against Epic Games. In reality, virtually 100% of all app developers who are aware of Epic Games v. Apple are rooting for Epic.

Ericsson and the Office of Unfair Import Investigations (OUII, or "ITC staff"), which participates in United States International Trade Commission investigations as a third party protecting the public interest, insist on conducting discovery of the "monetary and nonmonetary consideration" Apple provides to ACT, which filed a "public" interest statement in support of Apple. Bloomberg's Emily Birnbaum has been able to find out. So should the ITC. I hope Administrative Law Judge Bryan F. Moore will now grant Ericsson's and the ITC staff's (or, at a minimum, just the staff's) motion(s) to compel Apple.

I would also strongly encourage the European Commission to reject any submissions by ACT | The App(le) Association on whatever topic. And should one or more antitrust decisions come down against Apple in the App Store context, the European Court of Justice should not allow an organization mostly funded by Apple to join as a "third-party" intervenor.

Other lobbying entities--some of which are funded by Apple as well--cooperate with ACT on its "Save Our Standards" (as if the system of industry standard-setting had ever been endangered) campaign. They should draw the appropriate conclusions now.

Investigative journalists may very well find other entities beholden to Apple, such as a set of Twitter accounts (not even sure those are actually distinct persons) called FAIRREP, which claims to speak for more than a billion Apple customers, but by and large (apart from low-priority exceptions) just echoes Apple's arguments in support of its App Store monopoly and against the right to repair.

While low-key compared to Apple, the "(Application) Developers Alliance" is basically the same thing as ACT, just that they're funded by Google. That organization supported Google's appeal of the European Commission's Google Android ruling--which fortunately failed for the most part--as a third-party intervenor. I wish the CJEU could conduct an inquiry into the extent to which that Developers Alliance is simply a Google front, and sanction Google should it turn out that Google's influence over that organization is (as I suspect) comparable to Apple's over ACT.

On the occasion of ACT having been exposed by one of the most reputable news agencies in the world, let me provide a non-exhaustive list of articles in which I criticized ACT's astroturfing (in reversely chronological order):

Finally, a tweet by the founder and CEO of Epic Games: