Why is the government suing Apple? Look at your iPhone’s restrictions.


On Thursday, the United States said Apple is breaking the law by locking out competing technologies that could be better for you.

The antitrust lawsuit filed by the Justice Department and 16 attorneys general is the latest government claim that several Big Tech giants — Apple, Amazon, Google and Meta — leverage their popular products to squash free market competition. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The government’s charges against Apple will probably face a high legal bar in court, if the lawsuit makes it that far.

Apple said it would “vigorously” contest the lawsuit. A victory for the plaintiffs “would hinder our ability to create the kind of technology people expect from Apple,” the company said.

If you have an iPhone, you can see for yourself the heart of the government’s allegations.

The Justice Department says Apple limits choices with apps, text messaging, the ability to tap phones to buy lunch and options for seamlessly using a Garmin or Samsung smartwatch with an iPhone.

Apple has previously said limitations like those protect your security and privacy. But the government says that Apple’s restrictions limit your choices to allow Apple to grow even richer at the public’s expense.

If you use an iPhone, you’re subject to several limitations pointed out in the government’s lawsuit, including:

You can’t send secure iMessages to someone with an Android phone

If you have an iPhone and text a buddy with an Android phone, each of your phone companies gets a copy of that message — and it’s less secure from hackers.

If you text a video to your Android friend, it probably looks compressed or garbled on their end. You don’t get an indication that your buddy read your text, as you would if he had an iPhone.

If you have a Windows computer, you can’t easily read your iMessage chats on your PC as you can on a Mac.

Apple has said its choices keep you safer, but the company’s actions make many chat messages less secure and less functional.

According to the Justice Department lawsuit, an Apple executive in 2016 forwarded an email to CEO Tim Cook that said making it easier for iPhone and Android phone users to text one another “will hurt us more than help us.”

You can read the government’s lawsuit here.

You can’t try some potentially useful apps

Imagine downloading one app that lets you play a bunch of games such as “Candy Crush” and “World of Warcraft.”

Xbox made an iPhone app like that several years ago, but Apple never let you try it. Instead you generally must download and pay for each game app separately.

The Justice Department said that Apple’s decision to block those kinds of apps within apps stops you from trying potentially innovative products. The government lawsuit essentially compared it with Netflix only letting you watch one movie rather than giving you access to a bunch of programming.

Apple said in January that it would start to permit apps within other apps, although it’s not clear yet how that might work in practice.

You can’t tap to pay with anything other than Apple Pay

In the United States, Apple restricts access to the technology on your iPhone that lets you hover your phone near a payment register to pay for groceries, a subway fare or a cup of coffee.

That’s partly to keep your phone secure, but it also steers all your tap-to-pay purchases through its own Apple Pay service, letting the company collect a fee every time. Even if you wanted, you can’t pay instead with PayPal, the Cash app, Venmo or other payment services.

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department said that Apple “exerts its smartphone monopoly” to stop financial companies from “developing better payment products and services for iPhone users.”

After the European Union recently passed a law that forces Apple to allow access to its tap-to-pay features, PayPal told its investors that it planned to make its payment service available for tap-to-pay on iPhones.

Apple did previously lift some iPhone restrictions

If you click a link in the standard iPhone email app, you can open the page in the Chrome browser rather than Safari. You can ask Siri to play music from Spotify and not just from the Apple Music app.

You can now use the Gmail or Outlook apps as the standard email app on your iPhone instead of Apple’s email app.

Apple didn’t allow those options until a few years ago, when it lifted those previous restrictions after claims from U.S. government officials and rival companies such as Spotify that Apple was unfairly limiting technology choices.

Also after pressure from regulators, Apple is working to make the iPhone messaging app a bit more compatible with the standard Android texting app.


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