With help from Cristiano Lima and Steven Overly.
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— Epic Games sues Apple and Google: The ‘Fortnite’ creator sued Apple and Google for antitrust violations after the companies removed it from their app stores for offering players a discounted alternative for in-app purchases.
— FTC’s Simons faces choice on Qualcomm: The agency’s chairman, whose recusal from the FTC’s antitrust suit against the chipmaker ended in May, will cast a key vote.
— Voter suppression, hacks, disinformation: Facebook previews the complications it foresees for Election Day.
WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. IT’S FRIDAY, and I’m your guest host, Leah “Antitrust doesn’t have a hyphen” Nylen, subbing in for Alexandra S. Levine. Happy birthday, Social Security.
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EPIC GAMES v. APPLE, GOOGLE — Fortnite parent Epic Games sued Apple and Google for antitrust violations Thursday, raising the stake in the battle over app store fees. On Thursday morning, Epic Games started letting players bypass the iPhone and Android payment systems — and their 30 percent fees — to buy virtual credits more cheaply. Fortnite, with 350 million registered players as of May, is available on computers, smartphones, tablets, Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo Switch.
— ‘Exorbitant fees’: Epic said the change was a response to the “exorbitant” fees that Apple and Google charge. Within hours of Epic’s announcement, Apple and Google removed Fortnite from their app stores. “Epic agreed to the App Store terms and guidelines freely,” Apple said in a statement. “The fact that their business interests now lead them to push for a special arrangement does not change the fact that these guidelines create a level playing field for all developers and make the store safe for all users.” Google said it also removed Fortnite from the Play Store because of policy violations. Android users can still access the app through Samsung’s app store or by downloading directly from Epic.
— #FreeFortnite: Epic responded with a video riffing off Apple’s iconic ‘1984’ ad and a federal antitrust lawsuit. “Epic — and Fortnite’s users — are directly harmed by Apple’s anti-competitive conduct,” the company said. In the suit against Google, Epic said the search giant strong-armed OnePlus and LG to prevent them from preinstalling Fortnite or an Epic Games app on their devices. Epic’s lawyers in the suit include Christine Varney, who helmed the Justice Department’s antitrust division under President Barack Obama, and Katherine Forrest, a former judge and DOJ antitrust alum.
— Apple antitrust: The Justice Department and state attorneys general have been asking questions about whether the iPhone-maker’s conduct may violate antitrust laws. Apple CEO Tim Cook fielded dozens of questions about the App Store’s policies from House lawmakers at a hearing on antitrust last month. The company declined to comment on the antitrust suit. Google’s Play Store has come under less scrutiny since Android users can access apps through other methods.
FTC CHAIR TO CAST DECIDING VOTE IN QUALCOMM CASE — The Federal Trade Commission Chair Joe Simons is no longer recused from participating in the agency’s antitrust case against Qualcomm, the agency said Thursday, likely giving him the deciding vote on whether the FTC appeals its loss. Simons was recused from cases involving the chipmaker for two years because of his previous work for the company. That period expired in May, the FTC told POLITICO.
— Complicated history: On Tuesday, an appeals court reversed the agency’s trial court win that Qualcomm’s patent licensing practices are anticompetitive. The Qualcomm antitrust suit, filed in the final days of the Obama administration, has split along partisan lines since the beginning, with the agency’s then-lone Republican opposed. Efforts by Qualcomm to settle the case last year failed, since Simons’ recusal left the four remaining commissioners divided 2-2. Antitrust experts expected that split to prevent the FTC from continued appeals.
— Appeals: Former FTC Chair William Kovacic said agency staff don’t need permission from commissioners to seek a full appeals court, or en banc, review, but Supreme Court appeals need sign-off from the commissioners. The agency must first ask the Justice Department to take up its appeal, though if DOJ declines, the FTC can still go it alone, he said. That means Simons may now get to break the tie on whether to ask for a high court review or drop the case. Kovacic noted that the timing could leave a decision until next year and a new administration, unless Simons or his fellow Republicans seek an early vote to end further appeals.
WHAT FACEBOOK IS WATCHING ON ELECTION DAY — Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, told reporters Thursday that the social media giant is watching a few key threats in the months before — and the days after — ballots are cast in the 2020 contest.
— Gleicher is expecting voter suppression connected to the coronavirus pandemic, potential hack-and-leak schemes targeting campaigns, and an influx of disinformation if election results are delayed. The social network is leaning heavily on accurate information about voting, which it will promote through its Voter Information Center, as an antidote to those who will seek to maliciously sow confusion. “Efforts to spread disinformation exploit people’s uncertainty about how the process is supposed to work,” Gleicher said. “And so, showing people proactive, authoritative information is one of the best ways to counter misinformation.”
— Promoting accurate information may only go so far, experts say. Many people who unknowingly engage with misleading content will never see the correct information, so it can still lead to confusion about the election and discourage people from voting. Facebook is also taking proactive measures to label and even remove harmful misinformation, Gleicher noted, and the company is expected to announce additional policy changes as the election gets closer.
— The next two weeks could serve as a trial run in catching unexpected threats. The Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention moving online due to the pandemic creates new cybersecurity and misinformation risks for each online platform. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, for instance, will either live stream the events or serve as forum for political discussions around them. “Critical civic moments like that can often be a magnet for a foreign operation,” Gleicher said.
Chris Gilrein has been tapped as TechNet’s executive director for Massachusetts and the Northeast. Starting Aug. 24, he will oversee state-level advocacy from Virginia to Maine.
Facebook’s latest mess: is in the Pacific Ocean. The social network doesn’t plan to retrieve drilling equipment and 6,500 gallons of drilling fluid it left on the ocean floor after an accident during a transpacific submarine cable project, The Oregonian reports.
Labor Secretary interfered in Oracle lawsuit: The attorney spearheading a pay discrimination lawsuit against Oracle said she was removed after complaining about Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia’s involvement in the suit, Steven reports for Pros.
TikTok probe request: Two top Senate Republicans urged the FTC to launch an investigation into the data privacy practices of the embattled Chinese-owned video sharing app, Cristiano reports.
WeChat ban impacts: Apple, Disney and Walmart are among companies who raised concerns about how President Donald Trump’s executive order on WeChat may impact their business, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Alexa security bug: Cybersecurity researchers found a bug in Amazon’s Alexa that would allow hackers access to personal information and conversation history, the BBC reports.
Refund, please: The U.S. Agency for Global Media has asked three of its outlets to return more than $3 million they were allocated to help people in countries like China and Iran access impartial online news, POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman reports.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), Steven Overly ([email protected], @stevenoverly), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).
Have a good weekend! TTY Monday.