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Antitrust fight against Apple's App Store rules faces 'steep' climb

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 16, 2011
Regulatory pressure is more likely, says antitrust attorney

For all the hurdles facing an antitrust effort against Apple, Sterling believed the company could be pressured by regulators to modify the App Store terms. Apple has faced U.S. government scrutiny before, both in 2009 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) started an inquiry into Apple's rejection of Google's Voice app for the iPhone, and last year, when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) questioned Apple's plans to ban all apps created with cross-platform development tools.

Apple bowed to the pressure in both cases, eventually giving Google Voice the green light and dropping the tools ban.

"[Government regulators] may decide to step in, which as a practical matter, may make a judge [in any antitrust case] be more likely to moderate the App Store rules and accommodate competing products," said Sterling. "But so far, the government has taken a prudent approach -- rattle the saber and convince companies to reach an accommodation -- rather than launch an ill-advised lawsuit that wastes time and money."

If the Department of Justice or another federal agency takes that approach, Sterling expects that "cooler heads will prevail," meaning Apple would likely back off its current stance if pushed.

Even so, it's likely that concerns won't disappear.

"We'll see more of this, what with new markets like mobile phones and tablets, and with the lines between partner and competitor blurring," said Sterling.


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