Apple Inc. excluded a COVID-related application from its app store and launched its own, in violation of antitrust laws, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court by a group that includes a Dartmouth computer scientist.
In the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Concord, the group says it completed its app, Coronavirus Reporter, on March 3, 2020, early in the pandemic and before anyone else had come up with a similar app.
The app allows users to share symptoms and location so it can “capture and obtain critical biostatistical and epidemiological data as it happened,” says the suit.
Apple rejected the application three days later because it wasn’t from a “recognized institution,” says the complaint.
Apple would not respond to the suit, but an official pointed to guidance published on March 14 that it would be “evaluating apps critically to ensure data sources are reputable and that developers presenting these apps are from recognized entities, such as government organizations, health-focused NGOs, companies deeply credentialed in health issues, and medical or educational institutions. Only developers from one of these recognized entities should submit an app related to COVID-19.”
Instead, Apple allowed an application developed at a London teaching hospital and developed its own contact-tracing app with Google, which the suit claimed, had failed. But Apple says its Exposure Notification API is only available to public health authorities, and it has very stringent privacy and data security protections.
Apple was using its monopoly position to protect its own product, charges the suit.
“Apple specifically strategized to prevent Plaintiff’s app from setting a precedent or amassing a user base, which could jeopardize its own pipeline and/or the first-mover advantage of desirable institutional partners of a monopolistic trust,” said the complaint. The suit adds that it was “arbitrary and capricious restraint of trade.”
Later it says, “Apple’s “self-policing” of antitrust developer contracts was a sham, for lack of a better word.”
The developer of Coronavirus Reporter claims it has more expertise than Apple or other COVID applications that have been approved by the company, claiming that its Dartmouth scientist – who it did not identify in the suit – “personally developed apps used by a half billion users” and the group’s chief medical officer – also not identified – was a former chief physician at NASA during the space race.
The company also claims that it is a Wyoming corporation with offices in New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York and that it previously did business as an entity called Calid.
Calid Inc. is listed in Wyoming, registered to an agent with an address in Las Vegas who no longer works there, nor would anyone at that phone number discuss the company.
Calid has developed a few apps for Apple, including a global reservation system released in 2017 and apps called PayPhone Video Chat and WebCaller. A call left at Calid’s support number were not returned.
An internet search found that the name Coronavirus Reporter is not registered in either New Hampshire or Wyoming.
The attorney who filed the suit, Keith Mathews of Associated Attorneys of New England in Manchester, also did not return a phone call nor did he reply to a detailed email with questions about Calid and Coronavirus Report.
The complaint, however, reminds Apple that you don’t need to be a big organization to launch a successful product.
“Ironically, after all of these years Apple forgot it was founded in the garage of two independent inventors, the legendary American entrepreneurs Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. There was no good reason, decades later, for Apple to mandate that only institutions may contribute to the COVID emergency. This defies Apple’s own means of creation.”
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