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The New York Times reports that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) "is in the late stages of an investigation into Apple and could file a sweeping antitrust case taking aim at the company’s strategies to protect the dominance of the iPhone as soon as the first half of this year, said three people with knowledge of the matter.

"The agency is focused on how Apple has used its control over its hardware and software to make it more difficult for consumers to ditch the company’s devices, as well as for rivals to compete, said the people, who spoke anonymously because the investigation was active.

"Specifically, investigators have examined how the Apple Watch works better with the iPhone than with other brands, as well as how Apple locks competitors out of its iMessage service. They have also scrutinized Apple’s payments system for the iPhone, which blocks other financial firms from offering similar services, these people said.

The Times goes on:

"The Justice Department is closing in on what would be the most consequential federal antitrust lawsuit challenging Apple, which is the most valuable tech company in the world. If the lawsuit is filed, American regulators will have sued four of the biggest tech companies for monopolistic business practices in less than five years. The Justice Department is currently facing off against Google in two antitrust cases, focused on its search and ad tech businesses, while the Federal Trade Commission has sued Amazon and Meta for stifling competition.

"The Apple suit would likely be even more expansive than previous challenges to the company, attacking its powerful business model that draws together the iPhone with devices like the Apple Watch and services like Apple Pay to attract and keep consumers loyal to its products. Rivals have said that they have been denied access to key Apple features, like the Siri virtual assistant, prompting them to argue the practices are anticompetitive."

KC's View:

While this scenario is not really analogous to other antitrust suits being filed or considered by the federal government - including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consideration of the proposed $24.6 billion acquisition of Albertsons by Kroger - I do find myself wondering if this tells us something attitudinal about the likelihood of the FTC trying to block that deal.

It is all about competition and the marketplace are conceptually defined - and it seems clear that under this administration, they are being defined in broader and different terms than in the past.  That said, I agree that definitions have to evolve with reality, though I'm not entirely sure how I'd vote in any of these cases, and would be concerned about the degree to which the government could be stifling innovation.  But, on the other hand, I don't think that great innovators get a free pass.  So I'm torn.

I'm especially gobsmacked by the concerns about Apple.  To be clear, I'm all-in on the Apple ecosystem - among other things, I'm writing this on a MacBook Air, I use an iPhone and an iPad Pro, and I prepare my speeches in Keynote (which I always somewhat obnoxiously describe as "the vastly superior Apple alternative to PowerPoint").  I'm not entirely sure why, if I am an Apple customer, I shouldn't have better/easier access to various Apple programs than someone who uses non-Apple hardware.  That's like suggesting that someone who shops at store B should have equal access to frequent shopper features offered to people who shop at Store A.

If this is true, then the whole concept of loyalty marketing can be abandoned - you can collect all the data you want, but it won't matter, because you have to offer the same benefits to everybody.