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Antitrust probe – how did Apple respond to questioning?

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Earlier this year, the US. House Committee launched a wide-reaching antitrust probe to investigate some of the biggest tech companies in the world. Recently, Apple has sent detailed replies to a line of questioning that held no punches, and there are some pretty interesting reveals to be found.

The House Committee is looking for ways these companies unfairly screw the consumer or create an unjust monopoly on certain aspects of the industry. Of course, Apple is not first in the firing line here – perhaps the greatest concern is how and why Facebook and Google managed to share an estimated 85% of the internet’s total ad revenue in 2018. But there’s no denying all major tech corporations are worthy of investigation, and any changes that come as a result of this probe will, hopefully, be for the good of the customer.

The full report clocks in at more than 6,000 words and, to be frank, is a little boring. But a handful of the 43 questions asked by the committee forced some interesting answers from Apple, so let’s pluck out the best bits from the inquiry. Many of the points are related, so we’ve tried to condense the most interesting questions and answers from the House Committee’s antitrust probe into five easy-to-digest nuggets.

Why did Apple build its own mapping application?

“Apple believed that it could create a better map. In addition, because of Apple’s commitment to privacy and security, and the desire to keep as much information “on device” as possible, Apple believed offering a map that was more integrated into the device would serve the privacy needs of customers while providing them an exceptional map experience. Apple Maps helps users find their way without compromising privacy.

Personalized alerts and suggestions, like letting users know when it’s time to leave for their next appointment, are created using data on your device. And the data that is sent to Maps while the app is being used—such as search terms, navigation routing and traffic information—is associated with random identifiers instead of a user’s Apple ID.”

Why does Apple block independent repairs, and how much does it make from its repair business?

“Our goal is to achieve a safe and reliable repair for our customers, whether that repair is done by Apple or a service provider designated by Apple. If a customer needs an Apple device repaired, it’s important that the repair be conducted by a certified technician who has completed Apple service training and who uses genuine Apple parts and tools.

We continue to expand the number of locations where consumers can get repairs, while maintaining a priority on safety and reliability. We now have nearly 1,000 Best Buy stores across the US providing expert service and repairs for Apple products. We continue to focus on providing customers convenient access to authorized repair locations—but we will never compromise on safety.

AASPs (Apple Authorized Service Providers) conduct the exact same repairs that Apple Retail Stores offer. Customers are free to obtain repairs from any repair shop of their choice.

For each year since 2009, the costs of providing repair services has exceeded the revenue generated by repairs.”

What kinds of data does Siri collect and how is it used?

“When users invoke Siri, the things they say and dictate are sent to Apple to process their requests. In addition to these audio recordings, the user’s device will send other data to help better recognize what the user is saying. This data is associated with a random, device generated identifier and is not linked to the user’s Apple ID, email address or other data Apple may have from the user’s use of other Apple services.

Access to Siri data is tightly controlled and is available to Apple teams who are using it to improve Siri, Dictation and other language processing features like Voice Control. This Fall, customers may opt-in to have audio samples of their Siri actions available for grading by a limited group of trained Apple employees to measure how well Siri was responding and to improve its reliability.”

Why can’t users uninstall Safari or set another default browser?

“Safari is one of the apps that Apple believes defines the core user experience on iOS, with industry-leading security and privacy features. Removing or replacing any of these operating system apps would destroy or severely degrade the functionality of the device. However, users have many alternative third-party browsers they can download from the App Store.

All iOS apps that browse the web are required to use “the appropriate WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript”. The purpose of this rule is to protect user privacy and security. Nefarious websites have analyzed other web browser engines and found flaws that have not been disclosed, and exploit those flaws when a user goes to a particular website to silently violate user privacy or security.

WebKit is an open-source web engine that allows Apple to enable improvements contributed by third parties. Instead of having to supply an entirely separate browser engine (with the significant privacy and security issues this creates), third parties can contribute relevant changes to the WebKit project for incorporation into the WebKit engine.”

How does Apple select which apps share their revenue with Apple?

“Developers, not Apple, decide whether to charge for their app and services, and this determines whether or not they pay a commission to Apple. If it’s a free app for which the user pays nothing to use or play, and the developer is otherwise monetizing the download of that app (e.g., via ad revenue) the developer gets 100% and Apple gets nothing. Apple only charges a commission when a developer charges a user for a digital good or service delivered onto the device. These fundamentals of the App Store business model have been the same since the beginning of the App Store.

Apple does not realize any revenue from the vast majority (84%) of apps on the App Store, as the majority of activity on the App Store does not result in a commission to Apple and is therefore not subject to IAP.”