As Apple showed off its new slate of products during the annual Apple Day event September 10, it did so over a somewhat ominous backdrop of implicit regulator action, and a state desire by parts of the federal government to look into how big tech companies like Apple are affecting consumer markets and the economy.
First, there’s news that the Federal Trade Commission could be looking at the tech giant’s use of audio recordings, as part of a wider probe into how companies use data collected by virtual helpers like Alexa, Cortana and Siri.
There’s also talk of antitrust action by federal agencies looking into monopolies in the tech sector, where focal points could include social media giant Facebook, search colossus Google, and Apple itself.
“Washington is laser focused on whether Apple is unfairly stifling competition,” writes Cat Zakrzewski at the Washington Post. “As Congress and the Justice Department launch a spate of antitrust probes into Silicon Valley companies, Apple looks increasingly poised to get drawn into the drama. … The criticism has only increased as Apple develops its own video streaming or gaming apps designed to go head-to-head with popular competitors sold on its platform — investments we could hear more about today during the company’s major event at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters.”
One focal point is the company’s app store, which some experts see as a walled garden, even though Apple contends the app store is a key security measure.
Then there’s also the insidious practice of “de-compatibility” – where critics argue that Apple is increasingly making consumers reliant on its own accessories and secondary products. Some of that started with proprietary digital music formats for devices, and doing away with the standard audio jack for the new iPhone, where consumers have to buy a particular adapter kit just to plug in standard headphones, or buy even more high-priced Apple gear in the form of lightning plug-ins.
Critics also cite an alleged practice where Apple prioritizes its own apps in search results, and going back to music, a practice of implementing taxes on outside streaming services.
In short, there appears to be a lot of fodder for federal agencies to look at anti-competitive practices by Apple, and if news coming out of the FTC and other agencies is any indication, federal regulators now have an appetite for this kind of work.
Whether or not crowds are wowed by the new camera in the iPhone or the new Apple watch, they should be looking at whether antitrust investigations could force the company to make changes and how that would affect Apple stock down the road.
Apple is up 1.79% today to over $220 per share representing a six-month high.