with Aaron Schaffer

Epic Games and Apple’s courtroom showdown over competition in the App Store is winding down. 

The trial is expected to wrap up today, as both companies make closing arguments and field questions about their cases. Then they’ll wait for Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers to issue a verdict, which she hopes to reach by mid August. 

Rogers could make a decision with far-reaching implications for tech giants around the world, as lawmakers and regulators scrutinize whether Apple and other companies wield too much power and squash competition. 

Epic, the maker of the game Fortnite, is accusing Apple of running its App Store as a monopoly and abusing its power by shutting app developers into its closed system.

Apple CEO Tim Cook fielded tough questions from Rogers during his Friday testimony. 

It was the first time Cook appeared at a trial. He argued that Apple faced competition and that the company’s App Store policies are intended to promote safety and privacy. Yet Cook’s testimony was overshadowed by a series of pointed questions from Rogers, who appeared to challenge some of the key points of Apple’s defense in the case, my colleague Reed Albergotti reports

“It doesn’t seem you feel any pressure or competition to change the way that you act to address the concerns of developers,” Gonzalez Rogers said to Cook. She appeared to challenge one of Apple’s key arguments that it competes with Google’s Android operating systems and game-console companies such as PlayStation and Xbox in getting courting developers.

Rogers spent about ten minutes – the most time she's questioned any witness – grilling Cook about the App Store's business model and questions. It was the best indication so far of how Rogers might rule after the trial concludes. 

She appeared to side with Epic on a program that Apple launched for small businesses last year. Epic, which argues the 30 percent App Store commissions charged by Apple are unfair, also criticized the company last year for reducing the commissions to 15 percent for developers who earn $1 million or less in app revenue. Epic said Apple was using the reduction to deflect antitrust scrutiny from regulators.

Cook and Phil Schiller, another top Apple executive, have argued under oath that the pandemic was the main driver of the decisions. But internal documents exposed during the trial supported the idea that the company was trying to deflect attention.

Gonzalez said competition did not motivate Apple to change the fee structure.  “It seemed to be the result of pressure that was coming from investigations or lawsuits, not competition,” she said.

Cook also pled ignorance on several key questions about the company's business model. 

He said he couldn't remember how much Google pays Apple to remain the default engine on iPhones, and he later said he couldn't answer basic questions about Apple's advertising business. In one line of questioning he said the App Store was profitable, but that the company had not tried to calculate precisely how profitable. 

The trial could be just the beginning of a long fight. 

Whatever way Rogers rules, her decision is widely expected to be appealed by either side. 

Given the way U.S. antitrust laws are generally interpreted, Epic has an uphill battle to prove Apple behaved as a monopoly. The company has to show that Apple holds a monopoly in a market, and it abused it. Epic argues Apple does that by forcing app developers to use its payment processing system when they put apps in the App Store. It is illegal for a monopolist to tie one product or service to the sale of another. Apple argues that in-app payments and the store are all part of one service, iOS. 

If Apple is victorious, it could add greater pressure for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to update existing antitrust laws. The Senate recently hosted a hearing about competition in app stores, where senators heard from developers, as well as Apple and Google, about how they should change existing laws to better address digital markets. 

Rant and rave

Twitter had a really good time listening to — and reacting to — Cook's testimony. Axios's Megan Farokhmanesh:

Our colleague, tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler:

Koch Media's Daniel Emery:

The New York Times's Shira Ovide:

Our top tabs

Pro-Palestinian activists are protesting Facebook by posting low ratings in the Apple and Google app stores.

Many of the thousands of negative reviews mention the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices on Facebook, NBC News’s Olivia Solon reports. The company has taken notice, designating the campaign internally as a very serious event, according to leaked screenshots.

“User trust is dropping considerably with the recent escalations between Israel and Palestine,” a senior software engineer wrote on an internal company message board. “Our users are upset with our handling of the situation. Users are feeling that they are being censored, getting limited distribution, and ultimately silenced. As a result, our users have started protesting by leaving 1 star reviews.”

In a statement, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone defended the company’s practices. 

“Our policies are designed to give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps, and we apply these policies equally, regardless of who is posting or their personal beliefs,” Stone said. “We have a dedicated team, which includes Arabic and Hebrew speakers, closely monitoring the situation on the ground, who are focused on making sure we’re removing harmful content, while addressing any enforcement errors as quickly as possible.”

Trump’s continued influence hasn’t translated into online attention, a Washington Post review found.

In the past week, former president Donald Trump’s new website got fewer estimated visitors than pet-adoption service Petfinder and recipe site Delish, Josh Dawsey and Drew Harwell report. Social engagement a measure of likes, reactions, comments or shares on Trump-related content on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Pinterest has plummeted 95 percent this year.

Trump has complained that his statements have received little attention online, people in his orbit have said. His team is working on the “Trump Media Group,” which is expected to launch this summer and could include a new social media platform.

Crime-tracking app Citizen's expansion into rewards for information and on-demand private security is sparking controversy. 

The company offered a $30,000 reward for information about a man they said was suspected of committing arson in California, Rachel Lerman and Heather Kelly report. Police eventually questioned and released him, charging a different suspect. 

The incident highlights the potential pitfalls of real-time community policing, which experts have said raises the risk of false reports, privacy risks and disproportionate targeting of minorities. Jennifer Burner Barden, a Citizen spokeswoman, apologized after the company took down the accusation, but only after it was seen by a reported 861,000 viewers.

The app, which has more than 7 million users in 30 cities, is also testing a feature that would deploy a private security force at the request of users, Motherboard’s Joseph Cox wrote. Leaked emails and former Citizen employees detailed a “security response” that could entail Citizen partnering with private security companies to respond to reported incidents.

A Citizen representative told Cox that the company is doing a “small,” internal test of a service offered by security firm Los Angeles Professional Security, and the company has “spoken with various partners in designing this pilot project.” The representative did not respond to other questions about the emails.

Trending

Daybook

  • Rep. Robert E. Latta (R-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s communications and technology subcommittee, speaks at an event hosted by the Free State Foundation today at 9:30 a.m.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, discusses big technology companies and antitrust at a Washington Post Live event today at 3 p.m.
  • Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) discusses the role of technology in driving Washington’s recovery at an event hosted by the Progressive Policy Institute today at 5 p.m.
  • Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Google vice president Vint Cerf and DelBene discuss the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Commission at events on Wednesday.

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