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4 Internal Apple Emails That Helped the DOJ Build Its Case

by Elijah
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4 Internal Apple Emails That Helped the DOJ Build Its Case

Apple is using its dominance of the iPhone to illegally stifle competition in ways that harm consumers, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged in a lawsuit Thursday.

Apple has denied that it is acting illegally, with spokesman Fred Sainz saying the lawsuit “threatens who we are and the principles that distinguish Apple products in fiercely competitive markets.” But key parts of the lawsuit use the words of Apple’s own executives against the company. The DOJ lawsuit cites internal emails to allege that Apple knowingly and unfairly restricts users and developers. Here’s how four of the posts appear to show executives discussing how to maintain tight control over Apple’s ecosystem.

“Not nice to watch”

The DOJ’s complaint begins by citing a 2010 email exchange between Apple co-founder and then-CEO Steve Jobs and an unnamed “top Apple executive.” It describes the executive emailing Jobs about a new ad for Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, in which a woman first uses an iPhone to buy and read books with Amazon’s iOS Kindle app, but later reads on an Android phone.

The lawsuit portrays this ad as raising concerns within Apple. It says the executive wrote to Jobs about this, saying that a “message that shouldn’t be missed is that it’s easy to switch from iPhone to Android. Not fun to watch.” The lawsuit doesn’t quote Jobs’ response at length, but says he wrote that Apple would “force” developers to use its payment system to lock both developers and users into its platform.

The DOJ claims the episode shows an early example of Apple using a playbook it has repeatedly turned to when faced with competition, deliberately locking users and developers into Apple’s ecosystem. The lawsuit claims the practice has made switching to Apple alternatives more expensive than it’s worth, deterring competition.

“iPhone Families”

The way Apple restricts the iMessage messaging service is a key feature of the Justice Department’s antitrust allegations. It cites emails, including to current CEO Tim Cook, as evidence that the company knew it was harming users and making it harder to switch from an iPhone.

A quoted 2013 post from Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering claims to have warned that allowing Apple Messages to work across platforms would “simply serve to remove (an) obstacle take for iPhone families to give their children Android phones.”

In March 2016, Apple’s senior vice president of global marketing (apparently Phil Schiller) reportedly engaged CEO Tim Cook in a similar discussion, forwarding an email that said, “Moving iMessage to Android will hurt us more than it will hurt us.” to help.”

Frustration among some users over Apple’s control over iMessage and locking messages from people outside the Apple ecosystem in green bubbles has increased since then. Last November, Apple indicated it was willing to make some concessions, saying it would add compatibility with the RCS messaging standard to iMessage. Apple has also long argued that iMessage’s security features are a barrier to interoperability, another point of contention with the DOJ.

“Prevent… Switching”

The Apple Watch hasn’t become a blockbuster like the iPhone, but the DOJ lawsuit cites an email from an executive alleging the company used the device to influence its smartphone customers. In 2019, the lawsuit alleges, Apple’s vice president of product marketing for Apple Watch wrote that the device “can help prevent iPhone customers from switching.”

The DOJ claims that unspecified studies have reached similar conclusions, finding that the devices associated with their iPhones prevent them from switching to Android.

“We believe this lawsuit is flawed on the facts and the law, and we will vigorously defend against it,” Apple said in an emailed statement Thursday. Something it will have to defend itself against, however, are the words of its own executives.

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