Apple applauds muscle as a quiet force behind the app developer community

Apple applauds muscle as a quiet force behind the app developer community

The App Association considers itself the leading voice for thousands of app developers around the world. In fact, the vast majority of its funding comes from Apple Inc.

The App Association considers itself the leading voice for thousands of app developers around the world. In fact, the vast majority of its funding comes from Apple Inc.

The tech giant is not a member of the association. But it does play a dominant role behind the scenes in shaping the group’s political positions, according to four former Apps Association employees who asked not to be named while discussing internal matters.

In fact, critics note that the association’s lobbying agenda closely tracks that of Apple — even when it’s at odds with app developers, the companies that make games and the individual software that runs on Apple’s iPhones and other devices.

The group, known as ACT, says it is not beholden to Apple, but has confirmed that it gets more than half of its funding from the company. Former employees say the actual percentage is much higher.

The relationship between Apple and ACT illustrates how big companies are quietly pumping money into outside groups promoting their agenda in Washington. ACT representatives regularly testify in Congress, give court briefs defending Apple’s positions and host annual developer “fly-in” meetings with lawmakers.

Rick van Mitter, a former congressional aide and chair of the rival developer group the Coalition for App Fairness, said ACT’s representation of app developers is misleading, given its relationship with Apple. “When you pretend to be something you don’t want to prove a point, that’s bad for the law-enactment process,” VanMeter said.

Cupertino, California-based Apple declined to comment for this story, but ACT executives defended the company’s role. Morgan Reed, president of the ACT, said in an interview that he “didn’t pass the laughter test” to say the association is a front for Apple.

“Our job is to make sure that we pay attention to how the government can have an impact, unintended or otherwise, on all those little companies that make great software products,” Reed said.

Reed and other ACT executives said they determine political positions based on their members’ preferences and do not take guidance from Apple, although they do take Apple’s positions into account.

ACT spokeswoman Karen Grob declined to disclose how much of the group’s funding comes from Apple other than to say it’s more than half. Contributions from all donors exceeded $9 million in 2020, according to the latest available data from disclosure files, indicating that Apple is making a contribution of millions of dollars.

Apple is a major force in the industry. Its App Store is a virtual marketplace for apps, which is a profitable business for both developers and Apple. The company takes 15% to 30% of sales – that’s billions of dollars a year.

But many app developers object to fees and restrictions, which Apple insists it needs to be able to vet systems to ensure the safety of its users.

Proposed antitrust legislation introduced in Congress would loosen Apple’s grip on the App Store and enable developers to circumvent the company’s downgrade. This measure, known as the Open Application Markets Act, is supported by the Coalition for Application Justice.

But the ACT opposes the bill, arguing that it would threaten the privacy and security of the App Store, echoing Apple’s talking points against the bill.

Chelsea Thomas, CEO of ACT, is a former lobbyist on Apple’s government affairs team.

“Understanding what the big players in the ecosystem think about policy issues is important for us to understand where the conversations are going,” Thomas said.

ACT’s work has also attracted scrutiny from some of the biggest players in the developer world. Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games Inc. , the association called the “fake Apple” app developer “lobby” in a June tweet.

Epic Games, a member of VanMeter’s Coalition for App Fairness, lost an antitrust case against Apple related to the App Store last year, but won some unfair competition lawsuits.

Both sides are attractive. ACT Apple support is in the case.

The ACT website says it represents 5,000 developers and hardware companies around the world, although Reed said the number of active members is lower. In addition to Apple, the other sponsors listed on its website are Verisign Inc. and AT&T Inc. and Intel Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc.

The group’s annual congressional flights feature policy presentations to developers by Apple representatives and technology industry experts. People in attendance said the ACT often shared talking points that reflected Apple’s agenda before they met with lawmakers and employees.

Many ACT members said they appreciated the sessions with legislators that ACT organized, even if they did not always agree on the group’s positions.

“Is it inconceivable that there is a major donor whose position is also aligned and supports all the minor contributors in this field?” said Thomas Gorzinski, ACT member and founder of software development agency DevScale.

But VanMeter, whose alliance members also include Apple opponent Spotify Technology SA, said he assumed ACT was the “unifying voice of app developers” when he received material from them during his time in Congress.

“They sowed a lot of confusion,” Van Mitter said.

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