As detailed in a recent article in the New York Times, Apple is flipping about an outside monitor nosing around in its business. The technology giant has spent the last several months pulling out all the stops to keep one Michael R. Bromwich, a Washington lawyer appointed by a federal judge to ensure Apple’s compliance with antitrust laws, from doing his job.
Apple complains that Bromwich is guilty of ghastly intrusion with his impertinent requests for such things as interviews with board members and executives, including CEO Tim Cook. Otherwise known as doing what he is supposed to be doing – finding out if Apple is abiding the law. The Wall Street Journal wailed that the mean, bad Bromwich is so aggressive he would end up wanting to “disinter Steve Jobs” if he is not stopped. (Hmm. Are we quite sure Jobs was not cremated and packed into an Apple-shaped urn?)
In an effort to besmirch Bromwich’s character, Apple has also accused the lawyer, who is charging the company $1,100 an hour for his services, of using the inquiry as a means of making money for himself and his Washington consulting firm. Lawyers making money! Who would have thought? Really, if Apple would like to cut down on Bromwich’s bills, it might consider cooperating with his inquiries instead of stalling and obfuscating. Those invoices do add up, don’t they?
Most absurd, Apple claims that if Bromwich is not stopped, the company will no longer be able to innovate and create new products. What a hoot! If Apple was really eager to innovate and create new products, perhaps it would stop doing stock buybacks to enrich executives and devote some of the Mt. Fuji of cash it is sitting on to R&D.
The judge who appointed the monitor is not amused by Apple’s antics. The NYT reports that at a Jan. 13 hearing in Manhattan, Judge Denise Cote “told Apple and its lawyers to stop wasting time and start cooperating with the monitor.” Apple’s lawyer retorted that the company planned to continue its fight to unseat Bromwich with an appellate court. This is getting quite nasty. The Wall Street Journal huffed that the judge was mean and bad, too. If only these people would go back to doing nothing and leave big business in peace.
So what has Apple’s knickers in such a twist? Why has it become so secretive and combative? Perhaps the company is nervous because it is actually becoming a giant, monopolistic rip-off machine and doesn’t want you to know what kind of tricks it is up to.
When a company manages to get a certain amount of control over a particular market, regulators are supposed to start looking into possible abuse and coercion. That’s just what Bromwich is doing with Apple. If there’s nothing to hide, Apple should have nothing to worry about.
Apple is worried.
Last summer, you may recall, Apple was caught conspiring with five publishers to fix prices for e-books. That’s what triggered Judge Cote to appoint the monitor in October, because price-fixing is, you know, pretty much against the law.
The company has also pissed off consumers by doing stuff like forcing users only to use apps purchased through them or else it’ll shut down their devices. It has even developed special screws so you can’t open your iPhone and other devices, mwa-ha-ha-ha.
Apple has aggressively moved to squash any viable competitor in the high-mobility market, which includes smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. Many accuse it of trying to patent everything but the kitchen sink in an effort to make sure nobody else has a shot at competition. Obviously, this is bad for consumers.
Apple has even used its tablet dominance to lock students into using certain textbooks.
Let’s see: Anti-competitive, playing games like price-fixing, acting to limit consumer choice…If it walks like a duck….
Lots of companies have started out making useful things and doing good for society, but ended up becoming monstrously fixated on profits and market share. Apple is starting to look a bit like the Standard Oil of the 21st century. Standard Oil, you may remember from history class, once controlled a 10th of the U.S. oil business in the free-for-all climate of the late 1900s, doing all kinds of shady deals and disposing of competitors. The company faced legal issues in 1890 following passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Ida M. Tarbell of McClure’s Magazine exposed the company’s evildoing, and eventually Standard Oil was broken up into separate state companies.
It’s hard to say how this will all turn out for Apple, but the company has been steadily losing its shine. It dodges taxes with such shenanigans as the notorious “Double Dutch Sandwich,” it’s much more interested in playing Wall Street casino games with stock buybacks than developing cool products, and it pays many of its workers sqat. Now the feds are dropping the “M” word. 2014 could be a bumpy ride for Tim Cook.
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