There’s a Big Tech battle going down in North Dakota

A North Dakota bill is trying to rein in Apple and Google’s app-store dominance. It’s one of many state-level Big Tech battles.


February 17, 2021

[UPDATE Wednesday, February 17th, 6am PST: North Dakota’s Bill 2333 was voted down 36-11]

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Teddy Roosevelt was born in New York, but the “trust busting” (pro-antitrust) US president owned a ranch in North Dakota.

Now, more than a century since his presidency, the state is making headlines again in the anti-monopoly space.

According to the New York Times, North Dakota’s senate is set to vote on Bill 2333, which will “stop Google and Apple from forcing companies in the state to hand over a share of their app sales.”

The standard cut is 30% of sales…

… and in 2020, the practice brought in a combined $33B for Apple and Google.

Last year, Apple reduced its take to 15% for companies making less than $1m. But it’s not just the commission at issue: Apple doesn’t allow apps to be downloaded outside of its app store (Google does).

Ultimately, the bill is meant to attract companies to the state and help address the sheer dominance that Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems have across billions of smartphones.

Apple’s defense

The iPhone maker has long contended that its closed ecosystem is a benefit to users, ensuring quality, security, and privacy.

The company’s chief privacy engineer testified that the bill “threatens to destroy iPhone as you know it,” per the NYT.

That statement is a bit of a stretch. But it gives a window into how serious Apple is taking the matter — especially as it’s battling Epic Games and Facebook on related fronts.

Many other states are getting into the battle…

… which poses a problem for Big Tech lawyers and lobbyists used to dealing with the federal government (and not 50 “diverse and unpredictable” voices).

Other state battles include:

  • Georgia, Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are looking at similar app-store legislation
  • New York is considering a bill that will make it easier to pursue antitrust cases against Big Tech
  • Florida proposed a bill on how social media firms moderate their platform’s content
  • Maryland just enacted a law that will tax online ads for companies making more than $100m

Add to this the big antitrust cases against Facebook and Google, and it looks like this advice attributed to President T. Roosevelt is being heeded: “Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.”

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