One way algorithms are not ethical is in how Apple and Google have historically abused their dominant position as App stores to favor their own products.
As a futurist, I can say this is a highly underreported topic.
Most people don’t care if algorithms are maintaining unfair practices that go against standards of integrity in free-market capitalism, but I do.
In May, 2019 the Supreme Court, ruling 5–4, allowed iPhone users to pursue their antitrust lawsuit against Apple in a case involving its signature electronic marketplace, the App Store.
Stacked App Stories and Bad Actor Algorithms
Apple Stacked the App Store likely even worse than Google has done. This is common knowledge for those of us who work in technology.
After the ruling, Apple has to correct the “mistake”. Apple tweaked its App Store in July to favor its own apps less in search results, two top Apple executives told The New York Times. It’s such a shocking revelation to me, that surging tech companies actually get ahead by behavior like this.
It’s a big week for Apple as they announce more products in their famed event that will be streamed live on YouTube.
Competitors have raised concerns about Apple’s App Store to regulators and courts around the world. The Apple executives said the change was not made to fix a “mistake,” but rather to help other developers. Help developers? Nice one.
With the looming shadow of antitrust, plenty of folks are talking about whether or not Apple is abusing its position. Specifically, they claim that Apple has a conflict of interest by running the App Store and also creating its own software tools. Anti-trust violations are likely occurring at Google and Facebook the most, but Apple is not clear of blame.
The Apple Tax is not a Myth
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by the court’s liberal justices.
The iPhone users argued that Apple’s 30% commission on sales through the App Store was passed along to consumers, an unfair use of monopoly power. Apple argued that only app developers, and not users, should be able to bring such a lawsuit.
Of course, it’s difficult to talk about ethics in firms that are global corporations where we put our national pride. Silicon Valley’s impact casts a strong shadow on the rest of innovation in the United States.
Former Macintosh division boss Jean-Louis Gassée is now wading into the argument. Gassée says that people calling antitrust on Apple haven’t considered the number of jobs Apple has created through the App Store. But do jobs warrant unfair behavior by algorithms? That, to me, is a really poor argument.
Apple argued that only app developers, and not users, should be able to bring such a lawsuit. But the Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Kavanaugh, rejected that claim. Apple doesn’t think we as consumers are good enough to challenge it? That’s dangerous rhetoric. Lobbying, lawyers and weird ethics seem to be involved here.
Google and Apple app store monopolies have been dangerous to the entire ecosystem of innovation, likely putting the U.S. back and letting China catch up and then overtake America in app innovation. Poor ethics by the market leaders leads to a bottleneck that stifles American technological progress. That’s what we’re really talking about here. Duopolies have hurt the U.S.’s ability to keep up with China.
Short-term profits for Apple ahead of the long game for the U.S. is not going to work out nicely.
A Times analysis of App Store search data found that results for popular search terms often surfaced several Apple-made apps, even when they were less relevant to the search term than apps by competitors.
The problem is these algo features are so blatant you don’t even need studies to back them up. Anti-trust regulators have been dragging their feet for so long, it’s nearly incredible. Have Google and Apple cheated to get ahead? Absolutely. Duopolies are often about bad actor algorithms and poor management decisions. Silicon Valley ethics favor these sorts of power-hogging decisions.
The result of the iPhone users’ litigation could affect the way that Apple, as well as other companies that operate electronic marketplaces, like Facebook, Amazon and Alphabet’s Google, structure their businesses. For Apple, hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties could hang on the outcome.
Apple needs to be transparent and more apologetic about its behavior here. Apple has frequently talked up the millions of jobs it creates through the App Store. But what about consumers who have to pay such a premium for these products? Do I want to support your ecosystem of software services if you conduct yourself in a way that violates the rules of ethical behavior?
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