Apple is the main funder of a lobby group that claims to represent small developers

A large Apple logo seen in an Apple Store.

Apple is providing more than half of the funding for a lobby group that claims to represent small app developers, according to a Bloomberg article published today. Apple is not a member of the so-called App Association, but “plays a dominant behind-the-scenes role in shaping the group’s political positions, according to four former App Association employees who asked not to be appointed to discuss internal matters,” Bloomberg wrote.

The App Association says it “gives a voice to small tech companies” and that its “policy priorities reflect the opportunities and challenges facing today’s small business app developers and IoT innovators in the app ecosystem. But its positions on major legislation have aligned with those of Apple. The group’s list of policy statements dating back to early 2017 includes some specifically praising Apple and others opposing legislation Apple also opposes, such as antitrust bills targeting Big Tech.

A bill opposed by the App Association is the Open App Markets Act, which sought to help app developers use other in-app payment systems and avoid Apple’s standard 15-30% discounts. . The Apple-funded group also opposed the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would have banned app stores and other major online platforms from favoring their own products over competitors. Both bills stalled over opposition from Big Tech.

According to Bloomberg, the App Association (also known as “ACT”) has confirmed that more than half of its funding comes from Apple, but “former employees say the actual percentage is much higher” . The group’s total funding was over $9 million in 2020.

“ACT representatives regularly testify in Congress, file briefs defending Apple’s positions, and hold annual developer ‘fly-in’ meetings with lawmakers,” Bloomberg wrote.

Apple boosted group funding increase

A spokesperson for the App Association told Ars that in 2020, “Apple’s commitment contributed more than 50% of the App Association’s sponsorship revenue, making their support one of many contributors of the year”. The App Association did not respond to our question about Apple’s role in shaping its policy.

The group also told Ars that it “is proud to represent thousands of independent developers to foster an inclusive and secure developer ecosystem and app marketplace. Our members drive the organization’s policy and legislative agenda.” .

“According to our 2020 preliminary [Form] 990 deposits, the organization has seen an increase in sponsorship revenue to support our members’ small business advocacy efforts such as privacy, broadband and to help our members navigate the early stages of the pandemic, including including connected health, workforce retention/development, and access to government funding for ongoing business operations,” the App Association said.

The App Association’s website lists about two dozen employees and says the group “represents more than 5,000 app makers and connected device companies in the mobile economy.” The “members are located worldwide, in the 27 member countries of the European Union and in the 435 congressional districts of the United States”.

The App Association told Ars that its full list of members is exclusive, but 38 who agreed to be publicly named are listed here. US-based members include Concentric Sky, Startup Health, SheerID, Dogtown Media, Wellbeyond, Stroll Health, Project Hosts, Colorado Technology Consultants, MotionMobs, Rimidi, Southern DNA, Devscale, BadVR, CannedSpinach, BitSource, SentryOne, and AirStrip.

We contacted Apple today and will update this article if we get a response.

The group denies being a front for Apple

According to Bloomberg, ACT President Morgan Reed “and other ACT leaders have said they determine policy positions based on their members’ preferences and do not follow Apple’s guidelines, although they take into account Apple’s positions”. Reed told Bloomberg in an interview “that it ‘doesn’t pass the laughter test’ to say the association is the front of Apple.”

“Our job is to make sure that we pay attention to how the government can impact, unintended or not, all of these small companies that make cool software products,” he said.

Another group, called the Coalition for App Fairness, whose members include Basecamp, Deezer, Epic Games, Match Group, Proton, Spotify and others, has lobbied for Big Tech antitrust legislation. For example, the group argued that the US Online Innovation and Choice Act “would prevent monopoly platforms from discriminating against business users in a way that materially harms competition.”

The Coalition for App Fairness criticized the App Association in a Tweeter today. “An association that is funded primarily by Apple and represents Apple’s interests against developers and their customers, is a front group for Apple, regardless of its brand,” the group said.

Apple also opposed the antitrust law more directly. CEO Tim Cook has spoken out publicly against legislation that would force Apple to allow sideloading, and the company has increased federal lobbying spending and become a top funder of a new group called the House. progress.

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