Andy Yen, CEO of encrypted email service ProtonMail, says smaller app developers have encountered the same obstacle trying to grow their business: default settings on major digital services like Google’s Chrome browser that can edge out competitors. Now Yen is pushing back, heading to Capitol Hill for the first time this week to urge lawmakers to give consumers more control over which apps they choose as they move forward with their sweeping antitrust push.
Yen’s idea imports a concept from Europe: creating choice screens that allow consumers to choose their favorite apps immediately after installing things like Google Chrome.
It could deal a blow to larger companies that bundle their services and preload apps into different products.
It’s about giving control back to users because today they don’t know if they have a choice, Yen said Thursday in an interview in Washington, describing the competitive landscape in the tech industry.
At the heart of the push is a bill led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that would ban big tech companies from prioritizing their products over those of their competitors, American Innovation and treat election online law.
Under the bill, companies could not prevent users from uninstalling default apps on their products, nor could they prevent them from changing settings that could direct consumers to their own services. However, the proposal does not specifically prohibit companies from standardizing their own products.
Yen, whose company backed the proposal, said he urged lawmakers to consider creating a mechanism that would allow for more choice screens. It’s a fundamentally important issue and one that has strongly encouraged lawmakers to look into it because I think it’s the most influential thing that could transform the market, Yen said in an interview in Washington on Thursday.
The concept is not new, but it has been a point of contention for the overseas industry. In 2018, the European Union fined Google $5 billion for restricting consumer product choices in its Android operating system. In response, Google introduced selection screens that asked users to choose from multiple search engines when setting up a new smartphone. Google appealed the fine, asking European courts to reduce or abolish it.
With or without changes, Yen said the Klobuchar-Grassley bill and another targeting the practices of Google and Apple’s app stores would be a big win for companies like his. And he felt compelled to travel to Washington to try and get it across the finish line. If there’s ever a moment to be in D.C. to be able to discuss this issue, then now, said Yen, whose company is based in Geneva. This is the opportunity.
As scrutiny of tech giants like Facebook, Apple and Amazon has increased, Yen said smaller tech companies like his have felt emboldened to speak up and voice support for legislation seeking to curb their practices.
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