Apple ‘worse’ than Google, will probably be subsequent antitrust goal

Apple will be the next major target in the latest United States crackdown on Big Tech, IAC CEO Joey Levin predicted Friday on CNBC.

Levin said on “Squawk Box” that he believes “Apple’s next, and I think Apple is, in many senses, worse” than Google, which was sued this week by a group of state attorneys general. The AGs alleged that the Alphabet unit abused its power over app developers through its Play Store on Android.

Apple has “forced companies into the system,” said Levin, whose firm operates internet properties, such as Angi, which have apps on Apple’s App Store. “They have a monopoly, there’s no way around it. And the fees are exorbitant, and that flows through to everybody.”

Apple has steadfastly defended its policies, saying the money it gets from commission fees goes into maintaining and securing the App Store in a way that ultimately benefits app makers

U.S. attorneys general “got it right” with their new lawsuit against Google, Levin added, speaking with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin from Sun Valley, Idaho, where tech and media CEOs returned for an influential annual conference after last year’s event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Representatives from Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Attorneys general from 36 states and the District of Columbia, coming from both parties, are challenging Google in an antitrust lawsuit. The case is the fourth antitrust suit filed against Google by government officials in the past year.

In a blog post addressing the new suit, Google said the action ignores choice on Google’s Android and the company’s Play Store.

Regulators are similarly after Apple, which is also being chased with legal challenges and similar allegations of unfairly taking a large cut from developers for payments through their apps by customers, and allegations that the company favors its own apps over those made by its rivals. 

Barry Diller, chairman of IAC and Expedia, told CNBC in May that Apple overcharges companies that have apps on the iPhone maker’s App Store “in a disgusting manner.” Apple takes a commission rate of 30% on in-app transactions for large companies, and 15% for certain smaller developers.

The suit against Google is the latest in a string of challenges against major tech players, with President Joe Biden also set to sign a new executive order aiming to reform corporate consolidation and antitrust laws. 

“I think the world could use competition. I think the world could use some regulations around the scale of these businesses now, there’s a lot of power concentrated in very few hands,” Levin said, adding that it’s a tricky job to implement regulations as they frequently favor the incumbent. “It’ll be good for innovation, if they can get it right.”

The CEO does not believe antitrust legislation will impact IAC’s ability to expand, however, saying the company has spun off all of its big companies, including Match Group and Vimeo, and it’s focused on rebuilding by acquiring “new businesses in new areas.”

Looking ahead, Levin said IAC’s incubator is setting its sights on blockchain and smart contract developments, calling the technology a “new, exciting wave of transformation.” Blockchain, which stores data in blocks that are then chained together, is the digital ledger behind cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are smart contracts that uniquely certify digital assets.

“What I think we’ll probably do is evolve the incubator to focus either exclusively or significantly on things that involve blockchain and smart contracts,” Levin said. “New companies will be formed and new ideas or approaches to things will be formed, and I think we’d like to start experimenting around there.”

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